Prescriptions advice

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.

Managing your prescription medicines

Most people will use prescription medicines during their life for the prevention, treatment or management of illness. The effective use of medicines can help you to 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 you have been prescribed long-term medications, you should follow the professional advice you’ve been given. That means:

  • taking the right 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 especially important if you have a long-term condition which may involve life-long daily treatment – like asthma, diabetes or high blood pressure.

Ensuring you take the right approach to managing your medicines today could make a real difference to your health in the future.


It is also very important to follow the advice of your doctor and pharmacist when taking antibiotics.

Antibiotics are a group of medicines used to treat illnesses caused by bacterial infection which should not be used for colds and flu, which are caused by viruses. If you are taking antibiotics you must finish the course and should not stop taking the medicine once you start to feel better.

Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them (for a viral infection, for example) or improperly (taking a partial dose, for example), increases your chance of developing drug-resistant bacteria. Drug-resistant bacteria do not respond to antibiotics and continue to cause infection and diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, and meningitis. These were once easy to treat with antibiotics but are now becoming much more difficult to treat.

If you have any questions or concerns about any of the prescription medicines that you are taking, you should discuss them with your pharmacist or doctor.

Remember, follow the advice, use it right.

Prescriptions - Don't use it? Don't order it

Up to £18m is lost every year in Northern Ireland through wasted prescriptions. Remember – if you don’t use it, don’t order it.

What is wasted medicine?

It is a medicine that is dispensed, normally from your pharmacy, but never used.

Why does it matter if medicine is wasted?

If you do not take your medicine as prescribed, then:

  • it is possible that your condition may not improve, or even get worse – you may even need further treatments or hospitalisation
  • the Health Service will still have to pay for the cost of the medicine – money that could otherwise have be spent on important treatments and services.

So what should I do?

Before re-ordering a repeat prescription, check that you are still regularly taking all the medicines on the prescription. Only order those medicines that you are regularly taking.

If you have any doubts or concerns about your supply of medicine, you should speak to your doctor or pharmacist.

Can I order medicine ‘just in case’ I might use it?

You should discuss any medicines that may be needed ‘just in case’ with your doctor or pharmacist. Such medicines should not be re-ordered each time a repeat prescription is ordered, but only when your existing supply is finished.

Will I still be able to order a medicine in the future if I tell my GP I don’t need it now?

Yes. You should inform your GP practice or pharmacy that the medicine is not needed ‘this time’. If this happens, the medicine will not be removed from your prescription record, so you can still order it when you do need it.

What do I do if I have medicine left after I have stopped taking it?

There are many reasons for medicines being left over. It may be that:

  • you have recovered
  • a medicine is changed because of its side effects
  • a doctor has reviewed your condition and has decided to stop one medicine and start another

Your doctor or pharmacist will provide you with advice about what you should do with medicines left over.

Remember, you should always take your medicine as directed.

How should I dispose of medicine I no longer need?

You should return any medicines that you no longer use to your community pharmacy where they will be disposed of safely.

I am a carer. Where can I get advice on the medicines that I am assisting a patient or relative with?

The pharmacist who dispensed the medicines is a good source of information and will provide you with appropriate advice.

Prescription charges

All prescriptions dispensed in Northern Ireland are free of charge. You do not need to do anything to qualify for free prescriptions as everyone is automatically entitled.

Will I need to pay for a wig or surgical appliance?

No. Health Service wigs and appliances are also free.

Will I have to pay if I need to get a Northern Ireland prescription dispensed when I am in England, Wales or Scotland?

No, you will not have to pay to get a Northern Ireland prescription dispensed in England, Wales or Scotland.

Do I still need a war pension certificate?

Yes, but only for claiming other benefits such as travelling expenses.

Do I still need a maternity exemption certificate?

Yes, but only for claiming free dental treatment.

Do visitors from England, Wales or Scotland have to pay for prescriptions when in Northern Ireland?

No, all UK prescriptions will be dispensed free of charge at pharmacies in Northern Ireland.

Will people from the Republic of Ireland have to pay when in Northern Ireland?

A prescription issued in the Republic of Ireland is treated as a private prescription and a fee will be charged by the pharmacist in Northern Ireland. If the person has been treated by a Northern Ireland GP and issued with a Health Service prescription, they will not pay a charge.

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

Pharmacy and Prescribing Branch
Room D3, Castle Buildings
Stormont Estate

Telephone: 028 9052 0224

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