Thursday, 18 January, 2001, 15:46 GMT
Men who are not treated
for impotence can become depressed and experience relationship problems,
according to campaigners.
The Impotence Association is calling for the prescribing restrictions on treatments for erectile dysfunction (ED), including Viagra to be relaxed
Figures from the association show almost three-quarters of men with impotence experience relationship problems.
And two-thirds become depressed.
But of those who receive treatment, 93% say it has improved their lives.
The Impotence Association says the current prescribing restrictions fail to take into account the impact of impotence on patients and their families.
It is calling for all men with impotence, whatever its cause, to be treated on the NHS.
The Impotence Association says patients with conditions such as cardiovascular disease should be able to receive treatment.
A Department of Health consultation on who should be prescribed ED treatment ends on February 5.
Conditions covered by current rules
When Viagra was launched in the UK in 1998, the Impotence Association says hysteria in the press led to politicians believing GP surgeries would be inundated with patients wanting the drug.
They put the drug, along with other ED treatments such as vacuum pumps on a restricted list.
That, according to Impotence Association director Ann Craig, means many men who need treatment cannot get it.
She said men were also deterred from visiting their GP because they do not think they will get treatment.
This could be important as impotence can be an early sign of conditions such as cardiovascular disease.
"It is critical that the Department of Health understands that there would be broader benefits to the nation's health priorities, such as cardiovascular disease, if the restrictions were to be relaxed."
"Men with erection problems caused by high blood pressure or depression are often in a low-income group but currently do not qualify for NHS treatment.
"However cardiovascular disease and mental ill-health are at the top of the government's health agenda."
In the year between June 1999 and July 2000, the NHS spent around £19m, excluding treatments dispensed in hospitals
The Impotence Association carried out a survey of 800 patients with ED.
The Men's Health Forum is backing the Impotence Association's calls for the restrictions on treatment to be loosened.
Dr Ian Banks, a GP and chairman of the forum, said: "The greatest issue here is one of inequality where those men most likely to suffer from impotence are paradoxically those least likely to be able to afford to pay for treatment."
A survey of GPs carried out by the Men's Health Forum last year found, on average, a family doctor diagnoses just two cases of ED each month.
Three-quarters of those surveyed felt they, rather than the Department of Health, should decide which patients received treatment.
Eighty-nine per cent agreed that ED could be a marker for undetected cardiovascular disease or diabetes, and was an important consideration for managing those patients.
Sixty-nine per cent said it was unfair patients with cardiovascular disease or depression were not eligible for ED treatment on the NHS, while those with diabetes are.
Two thirds would
like to see ED treatments extended to patients with heart disease and depression.