Prescribing of Over-The-Counter (OTC) medicines is changing...


Why does the NHS need to reduce prescription for over the counter medicines? 

The NHS has been spending around £136 million a year on prescriptions for medicines that can be bought from a pharmacy or supermarket, such as paracetamol. By reducing the amount the NHS spends on over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, we can give priority to treatments for people with more serious conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and mental health problems. 

More information can be found on the NHS website.

Your GP, Nurse or Pharmacist will not generally give you a prescription for certain medicines that are available to buy in a pharmacy or supermarket, even if you qualify for free prescriptions.

This applies for treatments for these conditions*:

Acute Sore Throat


Mild Cystitis

Conjunctivitis, Coughs, Colds and Nasal Congestion


Mild dry skin

Cradle Cap


Mild irritant dermatitis



Mild to moderate hay fever

Diarrhoea (Adults)


Minor pain, discomfort and fever (e,g, aches and sprains, headache, period pain and back pain)

Dry Eyes/ Sore Tired Eyes


Mouth Ulcers



Nappy Rash

Excessive Sweating


Oral Thrush



Prevention of tooth decay

Head Lice



Indigestion and Heartburn


Athletes foot

Infant Colic



Infrequent cold sore of the lip


Sun Protection

Infrequent Constipation


Teething/ Mild toothache

Infrequent Migraine



Insect bites and stings


Travel Sickness

Mild Acne


Warts and Verrucae 

Minor burns and Scalds



*this list is not exhaustive and may change / expand over time


GPs, nurses or pharmacists will also generally no longer prescribe probiotics and some vitamins and minerals. You can get these from eating a healthy, varied and balanced diet, or buy them at your pharmacy or supermarket.


Exceptions to the new prescription rules

You may still be prescribed a medicine for a condition on the list if: 

  • You need treatment for a long-term condition, e.g. regular pain relief for chronic arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease
  • You need treatment for more complex forms of minor illnesses, e.g. migraines that are very bad and where over the counter medicines do not work
  • You need an over the counter medicine to treat a side effect  of a prescription medicine or symptom of another illness,  e.g. constipation when taking certain painkillers
  • The medicine has a licence which doesn’t allow the product  to be sold over the counter to certain groups of patients, this could include babies, children or women who are pregnant or breast-feeding
  • The person prescribing thinks that a patient cannot treat themselves, for example because of mental health problems or severe social vulnerability


How your local pharmacy team can help you

Your local pharmacy team are qualified healthcare professionals with the knowledge and skills to help with many health concerns. Pharmacists can give clinical advice, right there and then, and help you choose the most appropriate treatment. If your symptoms suggest it’s more serious, they’ll ensure you get the care you need.


What you can do?

Keeping a few useful medicines at home means you can treat common conditions immediately without needing to see a healthcare professional. These could include:

  • painkillers to help with pain, discomfort and fever
  • indigestion medicines, oral rehydration salts and treatments for constipation and diarrhoea
  • treatments for seasonal conditions like colds and hay fever
  • sunblock and after sun
  • basic first aid items (for example plasters or antiseptic cream)

If you have children, make sure you also have products suitable for them. Speak to your local pharmacy team about what medicines to keep at home, where to store them safely and how to use them.