The UK has become the first nation worldwide to allow over-the-counter sales of Pfizer’s erectile dysfunction drug Viagra.

Following a public consultation, the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved switching the drug’s status from prescription only to OTC.

Pfizer said it is working towards launching the drug – which has been rebranded as Viagra Connect (sildenafil) – across pharmacies in the UK from Spring next year.

In the meantime, it will implement an extensive training and education programme within pharmacies, enabling pharmacists to determine the suitability of each patient for treatment.

“We understand some men may avoid seeking support and treatment for this condition, so we believe giving them the option to talk to a pharmacist and buy Viagra Connect could be a real step forward in encouraging more men into the healthcare system,” said Berkeley Phillips, UK medical director of Pfizer Ltd.

“As erectile dysfunction may be a sign of an underlying condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease, there could also be a wider benefit to public health in the long term”.

John Smith, chief executive of the PAGB, also welcomed the move.

“Over-the-counter availability offers people faster and easier access to effective medicines, reduces pressure and costs on GPs and the NHS and encourages more people to self care. In this specific case, we also believe that enabling men to access Viagra Connect from their local pharmacy will reduce the likelihood of them accidentally purchasing counterfeit products online.

“With support from the extensive pharmacy education and training programme, which will be provided as part of the reclassification, the highly skilled pharmacists working in pharmacies across the UK are ideally placed to support men with ED and identify whether Viagra Connect is a suitable treatment for their condition.”