Private prescriptions

Doctor writing a private prescriptionA private prescription is like any other prescription for medication written by a doctor, except that private prescriptions are not funded by the NHS.

Private prescriptions are written by doctors in private practice, and by NHS doctors for medication which the NHS will not pay for.

The NHS does not fund travel medication, such as malaria tablets, and restricts quantities of some other medicines. The NHS will usually fund a supply of generic drugs only to treat male impotence.

Cost of private prescriptions

Private doctors usually charge patients for writing private prescriptions. Doctors working in the NHS must follow BMA guidance:

May GPs charge for issuing a private prescription?

GPs may write private prescriptions for patients which they may wish to do for drugs not available through the Drug Tariff. However, GPs may not normally charge their registered patients for providing such a prescription, although a dispensing doctor may charge for dispensing the prescription. The only occasions when a doctor may charge for a private prescription are:

  1. For drugs which are being issued solely in anticipation of the onset of an ailment whilst outside the UK, but for which the patient does not require treatment when the medicine is prescribed.
  2. For drugs issued for the prevention of malaria

British Medical Association – Prescribing in general practice, 2018

Different to NHS prescriptions

The NHS does not fund the cost of medicine dispensed from private prescriptions. Patients pay the cost of the medicine dispensed on private prescriptions. The cost can vary greatly, because like the fee for writing a private prescription, there is no fixed price for medicine dispensed privately.

Cost of medicine by private prescription

Pharmacies compete with each other on price when they supply medication on private prescriptions. In practice the mark-up over wholesale prices for privately dispense medicine varies. The mark-up for the most popular impotence treatments is often as high as 100% or more.

Private UK paper prescriptions can be posted to our pharmacy in Glasgow – see details.

Private prescriptions online

Private prescriptions for a range of medications are now widely available in the UK online. The prescriptions are issued electronically via online clinic websites. General Medical Council (GMC) registered doctors working in Care Quality Commission (CQC) registered services carry out online consultations. The private prescriptions which arise from these consultations are sent automatically to dispensing pharmacies. Patients usually pay a single fee for the consultation, prescription and the medication. The medication is posted registered delivery from General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) pharmacies. These services suffer from being associated in the public mind with illegal overseas pharmacies which supply all sorts of medication, some of it fake, without checking and without concern for the addictive and dangerous nature of some of their supplies.

What medicine can be prescribed privately?

NHS prescription

The most widely written private prescriptions, certainly online, are for the erectile dysfunction drugs (Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra), hair loss treatments (Propecia/finasteride 1mg), smoking cessation drugs (Varenicline – Champix) and travel medication, particularly the expensive and widely recommended drug Malarone. Some medicines which are also available through pharmacies without a prescription can actually be cheaper on a private prescription purchased online. This includes some hay fever treatments and dry skin treatments.

Typically private prescriptions are written for medicines which are not readily available through the NHS, although any medicine with a UK licence can be supplied in this way by a private registered doctor. Patients who are not eligible for NHS treatment may need to access all their healthcare privately at considerable cost.

Most people are familiar with standard green NHS prescriptions written and signed by doctors. These are the prescriptions GPs use for almost all medicine provided through the NHS. Doctors in the NHS do not charge for writing these prescriptions. In England there is a standard prescription fee of £9.35 (November 2022) for each item dispensed. This fee is paid to pharmacies at the time medicine is dispensed, although it is said that 90% of people are exempt from these charges. In Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland there is no NHS prescription fee.