A new internet service which allows men in the UK to get erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra, Cialis and Levitra legitimately and without a prescription has been launched, in a move that could stem the tide of fake drugs being sold online.

The service, a first for the country, is being launched by Lloydspharmacy in partnership with sexual health experts Dr Thom. It offers online diagnosis of erectile problems and the subsequent dispensing of prescriptions via the internet.

Andy Murdock, pharmacy director of Lloydspharmacy. said that the service will give men “the confidence to use the internet for ED treatments, safe in the knowledge that they will be receiving genuine drugs from a reliable source” . He noted that many men use the net to buy ED drugs but “unfortunately, most online sources are unregulated and patients risk receiving fake medicines which contain little, if any, of the active ingredient”.

Indeed in some cases, the ‘medicines’ available online contain harmful substances which can cause health problems. Some ED drugs lower blood pressure “so if they are dispensed to patients whose blood pressure is already low it could be very dangerous”, Mr Murdock said. “Our service will eliminate this risk.”

The way the service works is that visitors to the website will fill out a free questionnaire which is reviewed by a doctor with expertise in managing erectile dysfunction. If appropriate, the doctor will then make available a trial course of up to eight tablets of either Pfizer’s Viagra (sildenafil), Eli Lilly’s Cialis (tadalafil) and Bayer/GlaxoSmithKline’s Levitra (vardenafil).

The cost of the service is £45 per four tablets and patients are told the name of the doctor who has prescribed their treatment. The medication is then dispensed by Lloydspharmacy and sent to the patient through the post.

Patients will be sent a trial course first and then move on to an ongoing treatment regime if successful. Those who have used the service before will be able to order up to 16 tablets at a time and Dr Thom will provide on-going online medical support as required.

Lloydspharmacy added that by the end of the year, the intention is to offer a trial pack of all three ED drugs, where appropriate, “so patients can see which one works best for them before moving onto an ongoing treatment regime”.

Lloydspharmacy says that according to research it has recently conducted, four in ten men would rather suffer in silence than face the embarrassment of telling their GP about erectile problems. It is estimated that 40% of men over 40 – about eight million in the UK – suffer from the condition.