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.
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 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.
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.
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
- telephone: 028 9052 0224