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Prescribing of over the counter medicines is changing

Your GP, nurse or pharmacist will not generally give you a prescription for over the counter medicines for a range of short-term, minor health concerns.

Instead, over the counter medicines are available to buy in a pharmacy or supermarket in your local community.

The team of qualified healthcare professionals at your local pharmacy can offer clinical advice to safely and effectively manage minor health concerns. This includes:

  • Acute sore throat
  • Conjuctivities
  • Coughs, colds and nasal congestion 
  • Cradle cap
  • Dandruff
  • Diarrhoea (adults)
  • Dry eyes / sore tired eyes
  • Earwax
  • Excessive sweating
  • Haemorrhoids
  • Head lice
  • Indigestion & heartburn
  • Infant colic
  • Infrequent cold sores of the lip
  • Infrequent constipation
  • Infrequent migraine
  • Insect bites and stings
  • Mild acne
  • Minor burns and scalds
  • Mild cystitis
  • Mild dry skin
  • Mild irritant dermatitis
  • Mild to moderate hay fever
  • Minor pain, discomfort and fever (e.g. aches and sprains, headache, period pain, back pain)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Nappy rash
  • Oral thrush
  • Prevention of tooth decay
  • Ringworm / athletes foot
  • Sunburn
  • Sun protection
  • Teething / mild toothache
  • Threadworms
  • Travel sickness
  • Warts & verrucae

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.


Why does the NHS need to reduce prescriptions 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 medicines, we can give priority to treatments for people with more serious conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and mental health problems.


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.

What can you 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 re-hydration 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.

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