Most people have had prescription medications on and off all their lives. From painkillers to antibiotics, to creams and antihistamines, you’ve probably had something on prescription as a kid, and as an adult. I have certainly. Since I was 15 or 16 I’ve been going to the doctors alone and collecting those prescriptions. Working in a pharmacy has been a bit of an eye-opener for me in terms of realising how many people don’t understand their prescriptions. I thought for a while that I was biased, and yes, there is a lot of things I didn’t know about prescriptions before working in a pharmacy. However, there seems to be a lot of important stuff that people don’t know. Important stuff you should know about your prescriptions.
It Is Illegal To Dispense Them Before The Date On The Script.
Towards the bottom right hand of your prescription, there is a date. That is the date you are allowed your prescriptions. Most of the time, it’s today’s date. You got to your doctors, she gives you a script and you go get your medication. Simple enough. Doctors, however, can post-date prescriptions. I’ve seen some come up from the local GP surgery for up to a year in advance. If you are stable and the doctor doesn’t see any impending changes then they might do this. That way you can just pop along to the chemist on the day you get need them and not have to request them from the doctors or even see your GP.
Again, simple enough, but that date is the first date we can dispense that script from. No the week before, not the day before. Just one day is not a good enough reason to break the law. We could lose our jobs, our licences, our business. Even if it’s just paracetamol – one day is still illegal. If you’ve run out of medication somehow, perhaps you lost a box or the GP surgery messed up the dates on the prescription, we can’t do anything about that unless the date changed and that change is signed by a doctor.
It’s also illegal for you to change that date yourself. And trust me we know, because we know what the doctor’s signatures look like. A few thousand scripts a month and you get a feel for them.
Prescriptions Have An Expiry Date
While you can’t collect them before the date on the script you can certainly collect them after that date. This is something that has surprised a few people I’ve served. But don’t leave it too long because it could go out of date.
Prescriptions with regular items on them are good for six months. After that, you need to destroy it and get a new one. Controlled drugs are good for twenty-days only. Even the scheduled four controlled prescriptions with drugs like Tramadol and Diazepam on them expire after twenty-eight days.
It’s also worth noting that most chemists will only keep your medication on the shelf for about two months. After that, we take it off the shelf and put the medication back into stock. Then we remove the items from your patient medication record.
You Can Go To Any Pharmacy
This one always surprises me a little. It doesn’t matter what is written in that top left-hand corner, whether is be Well, Lloyds or an independent, you can take your prescription to whatever you want. If you don’t want to go to one chemist anymore then don’t. Go to whichever one you want. As the patient you have the choice, your GP surgery isn’t allowed to tell you where to go. Even if they have a chemist in the surgery or next door, you don’t have to use it.
Nor do you have to get your prescription at home. If you’re going to holiday somewhere in Britain then you can take the script with you and have it dispensed wherever you want. Just be aware that if you’re from Wales and going into England, you’ll have to pay.
We Have To Give You What It Says On The Prescription
Sometimes what you get isn’t always what you want. Or what you expected. So if you’re expecting soluble paracetamol but receive capsules instead, I’m sorry but you’ll need another prescription for the soluble. This is both a legal and a monetary issue. We can just give people 5mg of a tablet when the script says 2.5mg, just cause you say the doctor double the dose doesn’t mean he has to us. It’s not that we don’t trust you but unless we hear it from the doctor we just can’t take your word for it.
It’s not legal and we’re not going to get paid for what we give you. The NHS is only going to pay us for what’s on the script. Which in the case of different doses might be negligible, but from form to form and drug to drug the difference can be huge. Paracetomol tablets cost almost nothing but liquid paracetamol costs a lot more.
It can vary from brand to brand too and we’re only usually supposed to dispense branded medication when it’s stated on the prescription. Think panadol over generic paracetamol, Zapain over co-codamol 30/500. If you’re sure only certain brands work, or you’re more sensitive to certain brands, you need to tell your doctor so they can prescribe them. We’re not obligated to dispense the brand medication, just the generics. If it’s down as the generic we’re only going to get paid for it.
It’s not personal, it’s business.
You Don’t Have To Have Everything
Just because you have a list ten of medications on your prescription doesn’t mean you have to have all ten. You can cross anything you don’t want off (though don’t go crazy with the biro scribbling over the item). Some doctors tend to prescribe by the box, some by the days in a month. Some choose random numbers that seem like an odd choice to us lowly dispensers. Also, some medications aren’t needed every day. Some medication comes in boxes of thirty over a box of twenty-eight.
Choosing only what you need reduces waste. So if you don’t need Laxido this month don’t order it. Put a cross next to it. Or even check the bag before you leave the shop and give it back. This is great because once an item has left the shop we can’t use it again and have to throw it away. Even if you only went around the corner.
One important thing to note is that once you cross it off (especially if you scratched it out completely with a black marker or something) and we’ve dispensed the items you did want, you can’t come back a few days later (or a few minutes even) and say, I’ve changed my mind I do need those eyedrops/painkillers/blood pressure pills/etc.
We Have To Have A Pharmacist In The Building
Ignoring the fact that all prescriptions need to be checked by a pharmacist – we cannot even give you your prescription if we don’t have a pharmacist in the building. As previously mentioned we can’t even open up if we don’t have a responsible pharmacist present. It’s a legal requirement and it’s against the law to hand out your medication without a pharmacist. So even if it’s ready and waiting on the shelf it’s illegal to give it out. I can’t just slip it through the door so you can get to work, and I definitely can’t let you in.
It’s not personal, it’s for your safety and ours.
The Repeat Form Is Not A Legal Prescription
Last but definitely not least, the repeat slip that is often (but not always) attached to your script is meaningless to us. This is simply a list of medication you can order from your GP surgery without having to see the GP. It is not a list of what was on the prescription you gave us and it is not a list of medication you can get from us.
The green (yellow, pink, blue) piece is the legal prescription. The white bit is either for your own information or so you can order those medications next time. We will usually hand it back to you, keep it if you’re an ExRx patient or bin it in the confidential waste if you don’t want it.
The More You Know
I truly believe people should know this stuff and more. We use services every day without knowing the ins and outs of but can figure out how to programme our digital tv boxes to remind us to watch reality shows. These are the services that are saving your life, and services you will be voting the future of in June. Learn about the NHS, learn about your pharmacy and learn about your medication. The more you know about your medication and services the better you can use them.
Check out my post on Six Things You Need To Know About Your Pharmacy.