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Treatments available over the counter

Over the counter medicines

Self Care

Prescribing of over the counter medicines is changing

What is changing?

Some medicines, that are available to buy over the counter from pharmacies and supermarkets, will not generally be available on prescription.

These are medicines used to treat minor, short-term health conditions which:

  • you can easily treat yourself (self-care) or
  • will get better on their own (self-limiting).

In line with national NHS guidance in 2018, this change applies to the minor conditions list below.

You may find information on the Pharmacyfirst service helpful. Click here to read.

All the information on this page is also available in a leaflet to download (PDF). Click here.



Exceptions to the new prescription rules

You may still be prescribed a medicine for a condition on the list if:

  • You need treatment for a long-term condition, e.g. regular pain relief for chronic arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease.
  • You need treatment for a more complex form of minor illness, e.g. migraines that are very bad and where over the counter medicines don’t work.
  • You need an over the counter medicine to treat a side effect of a prescription medicine or symptom of another illness, e.g. constipation when taking certain painkillers.
  • The medicine has a licence which doesn’t allow the product to be sold over the counter to certain groups of patients. This could include babies, children or women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
  • The person prescribing thinks that a patient cannot treat themselves, for example because of mental health problems or severe social vulnerability.

The reasons vary for each condition. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will speak to you if this affects you.

Why are we making this change?

Nationally the NHS has been spending around £569 million a year on prescriptions for medicines that can be brought over the counter from a pharmacy or supermarket, such as paracetamol.

By reducing the amount the NHS spends on over the counter medicines, we can give priority to treatments for people with more serious conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and mental health problems.

What if I am exempt from paying prescriptions charges?

This guidance applies to all patients, including those who would be exempt from paying prescription charges.

Where can I buy these medicines?

These can be purchased without the need for a prescription from pharmacies, supermarkets and other retail outlets.

How much do these medicines cost?

Just like with other goods, the price of medicines may vary between retailers so it is a good idea to shop around to get the best value. The average cost of most of these medicines will be around £2 to £3 and some will be a lot cheaper.

Where can I get further advice?

Your local pharmacy team play a key role in advising you on common, minor health concerns and if your symptoms suggest it’s more serious, they’ll ensure you get the care you need. They can offer an enhanced Pharmacyfirst service giving you personalised advice on what treatments might be best for you and how long you can expect your symptoms to last. If things haven’t improved after this time or you start to feel a lot worse, you should:

  • go back to the pharmacy for further advice
  • call NHS 111
  • contact your GP 

Visit the NHS website for more information and advice on treating minor health concerns.

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will not generally give you a prescription for certain medicines that are available to buy in a pharmacy or supermarket, even if you qualify for free prescriptions.

This applies to treatments for these conditions:

  • Acute sore throat
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Coughs, colds and nasal congestion
  • Cradle cap
  • Dandruff
  • Diarrhoea (adults)
  • Dry eyes/sore tired eyes
  • Earwax
  • Excessive sweating
  • Haemorrhoids
  • Head lice
  • Indigestion and heartburn
  • Infant colic
  • Infrequent cold sores on the lip
  • Infrequent constipation
  • Infrequent migraine
  • Insect bites and stings
  • Mild acne
  • Mild cystitis
  • Mild dry skin
  • Mild irritant dermatitis
  • Mild to moderate hay fever
  • Minor burns and scalds
  • Minor pain, discomfort and fever (e.g. aches and sprains, headaches, period pain, back pain)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Nappy rash
  • Oral thrush
  • Prevention of tooth decay
  • Ringworm/athletes foot
  • Sunburn
  • Sun protection
  • Teething/mild toothache
  • Threadworms
  • Travel sickness
  • Warts and verrucae

Doctors, nurses and pharmacists will also generally no longer prescribe probiotics and some vitamins and minerals. You can get these from eating a healthy, varied and balanced diet, or buy them at your pharmacy or from a variety of stores including supermarkets.

Find out more about the changes at