It’s important to take prescription medicines as directed by your doctor or pharmacist. Always follow the advice you are given, and use your medication correctly. This advice is also important to remember if you are a carer responsible for managing someone else’s medicines.

Taking prescription medicines

Most people will take prescription medicines to prevent, treat or manage illness. The effective use of medicines can help you stay healthy for longer. Many previously debilitating or life-limiting conditions are now prevented or managed through regular medicines use – often on a long-term basis.

Prescribing medicine

If your doctor or a specialist prescribes you long-term medication, you should follow their professional advice. This means:

  • taking the exact dose at the right time
  • taking only the medicines prescribed for you
  • ordering only the medicines you need and use from your GP

This is  important if you have a long-term condition which may involve life-long daily treatment, like asthma, diabetes or high blood pressure.


Antibiotics are medicines used to treat illnesses caused by bacterial infection. You shouldn't take antibiotics to treat a cold or flu which are caused by viruses.
It important to follow your doctor and pharmacist's advice when taking antibiotics.

If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, you must finish the course. You shouldn't stop taking the medicine once you start to feel better.

Drug-resistant bacteria

Drug-resistant bacteria don't respond to antibiotics and cause infection and diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, and meningitis. 

You could increase the risk of developing drug-resistant bacteria if:

  • you take antibiotics when you don’t need them for example to treat a viral infection
  • you take a partial dose of antibiotics 

If you're concerned about any prescription medicine you take,  ask your pharmacist or doctor for more information.

Wasted medicine

If a pharmacist dispenses medicine but you don't use it, the medicine is wasted. If you don't take your medicine as prescribed:

  • it is possible that your condition may not improve, or could get worse – you may even need further treatments or admission to hospital
  • the Health Service pays for the medicine – money that could be spent on other treatments or health services

Ordering a repeat prescription

Before you order a repeat prescription, check that you regularly take all the medicines on the prescription. Only order those medicines that you take regularly.

If you're concerned about your supply of medicine, speak to your doctor or pharmacist.

Ordering medicine in case you need it

You should discuss any medicines you think you may need ‘just in case’ with your doctor or pharmacist. You shouldn't re-order these medicines on each repeat prescription, but only when your existing supply is finished.

Ordering medicine later if you don’t need it now

You should tell your GP practice or pharmacy that you don't need the medicine now.  They won't remove the medicine from your prescription record, so you can still order it when you need it.

You have medicine left over

There are different reasons for having medicine left over. It may be that:

  • you have recovered
  • a medicine is changed because of its side effects
  • a doctor reviewed your condition, stopped one medicine and prescribed another for you

Your doctor or pharmacist will tell you what to do with left over medicine.

Disposing of medicine you don't need

You should return any medicines that you no longer use to your community pharmacist  They  can safely dispose of medicine.

Advice for carers responsible for helping a relative or patient with medicine

If you care for a relative or patient who needs to take medicine, the pharmacist who dispensed the medicines can give you advice.

Free prescriptions

Prescriptions written by GPs are dispensed free in Northern Ireland. You don't need to qualify for free prescriptions.

Pharmacists in Northern Ireland don't charge patients from England, Scotland or Wales for prescriptions.

If you bring your prescription to a pharmacy in England, Scotland or Wales, the pharmacist won't charge you for dispensing. 

Wigs and surgical appliances

Health Service wigs and appliances are free.

Prescriptions issued in the Republic of Ireland 

Pharmacists in Northern Ireland charge patients a fee when dispensing a prescription issued in the Republic of Ireland. If the patient is registered with a GP practice in Northern Ireland and the GP writes them a prescription, they don't pay a fee.

For any other queries, contact the Department of Health (DOH). The address is:

Medicines Policy Branch
Room D3, Castle Buildings
Stormont Estate
  • telephone: 028 9052 0224

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