Boots became the first pharmacy to sell the erectile dysfunction drug sildenafil – branded as Viagra Connect – over the counter, after it struck a two-week exclusive deal with the manufacturer Pfizer.
The deal was announced on the day the product became available as a pharmacy (P) medicine for the first time in the UK, prompting criticism from the National Pharmacy Association (NPA).
In a statement, Ian Strachan, NPA chair, said: “It is incredibly disappointing that Pfizer has given preferential treatment to Boots.” He added that “deals like this restrict patient choice and undermine confidence in independent community pharmacies, which make up about half of the market”.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) welcomed the wider availability of the product from 27 March 2018 following its reclassification from a Prescription Only Medicine (POM) to a P product, because of the increased access it will give to men with erectile dysfunction.
Ash Soni, RPS president, said: “We look forward to the public having access to this through all pharmacies to support everyone being able to seek the advice of a health professional at a place of their choosing.”
The UK’s safety watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), recommended a year ago that sildenafil should be reclassified from a POM to a P medicine. The decision followed a request from Pfizer that the product – which has been on the UK market since 1998 – should be more readily available. The MHRA recommendation was approved by the UK government in November 2017.
Announcing the launch of Viagra Connect on Tuesday 27 March 2018, Pfizer confirmed that it would only be available in pharmacy and online from Boots exclusively for a two-week period, prior to it being made available from wider pharmacies. The company said: “Its introduction has been hailed as an important step forwards in supporting men to proactively manage their health.”
“This launch further expands the role of community pharmacy and we hope that it will play a part in reducing pressures on the overall healthcare system,” said Richard Bradley, pharmacy director of Boots UK.
Boots said men will have to complete a questionnaire first to determine if the product is suitable for them. It is advising men to consult their GP as soon as possible, within a maximum six months of receiving their supply, to ensure that any underlying conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease can be investigated.
Viagra Connect has a recommended retail price of £19.99 for a four-tablet pack or £34.99 for an eight-tablet pack.
The reclassification only applies to 50mg sildenafil citrate tablets. The change of status does not alter any of the conditions of supply of the currently available prescription products for erectile dysfunction, which will remain available on prescription, the MHRA confirmed when it made its original recommendation in March 2017.