UK pharmacy giant Boots is to start a trial programme on St Valentine's Day which will offer men access to Pfizer’s erectile dysfunction drug Viagra without them having a prescription.

The scheme is to be piloted in three of Boots’ stores in Manchester and will be open to men aged between 30 and 65. They will be required to make an appointment with a pharmacist, provide their medical histories and take blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels. The consultation and a trial pack of four Viagra (sildenafil) pills will cost £50 and after that the men will be sent to a private doctor for a further consultation costing £37.50. Subsequent packs will cost £21.25.

Viagra cannot be prescribed over the counter under normal circumstances but the Boots’ scheme is covered by Patient Group Directions which make it legal for medicines to be provided to groups of patients without individual prescriptions having to be written for each one. The Viagra programme is expected to last for six months, and may later be expanded to the chain’s other 1,500 stores across the UK.

Pfizer, which notes that the scheme comes from Boots alone, said that only a small proportion of men with ED present and therefore it “remains an under-diagnosed and stigmatised medical condition affecting an estimated 50% of men over the age of 50” and in many cases “may be the first sign of other more serious medical conditions such as high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes and depression.”

The US drugs behemoth added it is supportive of initiatives that can help patients with ED obtain appropriate advice from a qualified healthcare provider that can result in successful treatment “and also potentially lead to earlier diagnosis of underlying health conditions.”