Getting your prescription

To get your prescription you should visit a local community pharmacy.

You may have already agreed with your GP practice which pharmacy your prescription should be sent to. In this case, you should check with the pharmacy you’ve chosen how long it’ll take them to have your prescription ready for collection.

If you already have your prescription, this can be taken to any community pharmacy you choose. You’ll have to wait for it to be dispensed or you can return later to pick it up.

Find your local pharmacy

Use Scotland’s Service Directory to find your local pharmacy.

What to do if you run out of medicine

If they’re open, speak to the pharmacist in your local community pharmacy or your GP practice to see if it’s possible to get some of the medicine you’ve run out of. They’ll be able to advise on next steps. In most cases, they’ll be able to give a supply until you can get another prescription organised.

If your GP practice is closed or unavailable

Speak to the pharmacist in a local community pharmacy if you run out of your medicine and your GP practice is closed. The pharmacist may be able to supply you with the medication that you urgently need.

You can also speak to a community pharmacist if you’ve got a hospital discharge prescription or letter but are unable to get to your GP practice.

If your GP practice and pharmacy is closed

Your GP practice and community pharmacist may be closed over certain periods. This includes the Easter and Christmas breaks. This means you should make sure you have enough medicines to cover you over these periods.

Use our self-help guide for advice if you’re having difficulty getting the medicine you need.

How to get medicines if you run out

If you run out of your regular medicine, and your GP practice is closed, there are ways to get an emergency supply.

Collecting your prescription

You can collect your prescription from your community pharmacy.

Anyone can collect a medicine on your behalf as long as you have given consent or asked them to collect it.

The person collecting your medicine should sign the back of the prescription form. They’ll be asked to confirm some of your details, including your name, address and date of birth.

There are stricter controls if the medicine’s a controlled drug, for example morphine.

If someone else is collecting a controlled drug for you, they’ll be asked to prove their identity. The pharmacist may also contact you. You’ll be asked to confirm that someone else is collecting your medicine.

Reordering a repeat prescription

If you want to routinely reorder a repeat prescription, your GP practice will be able to advise you on how to do this.

You can also ask your local community pharmacist for advice on how to reorder your prescription. They’ll be able to tell you if a repeat prescription collection service is available to simplify the process.

Further advice about your prescription

If you would like further information about your prescription, you can:

  • ask your healthcare professional about anything you’re unsure of
  • check the leaflet that comes with your medicine
  • speak to a community pharmacist

If you’re unsure what to ask, look at the ‘Not Sure? Just Ask!‘ card for some examples of questions to bring to your healthcare professional.

About prescriptions

Medicines are usually prescribed by a doctor. Other healthcare professionals that can prescribe medicines include:

  • nurses
  • pharmacists
  • dentists
  • physiotherapists

Meeting your healthcare professional

If you’ve got an appointment with a healthcare professional, they’ll look to:

  • ask to hear about your symptoms
  • examine your symptoms if this is necessary
  • do some tests if this is necessary

This’ll help to decide if you need treatment and, if so, what kind of treatments could be considered.

In preparation for any appointment or discussion with a healthcare professional, you should get familiar with ‘It’s OK to Ask’. These are questions that you should feel able to ask at your appointment. This’ll help you to be more involved in the decision-making process around your care.

What happens if you need a prescription?

If you need a prescription, a healthcare professional will speak to you about your options. They’ll also listen to what’s important to you. They’ll then:

  • help you decide on the most appropriate medicine for your symptoms
  • help you decide if you need more than one type of medication
  • advise you on the best dose of the medication

The healthcare professional will describe the benefits and possible risks of treatment. They’ll also explain how likely these are to happen to you and make the best decision for you around your care and treatment.

They’ll usually choose medicine that’s in your health board’s local ‘formulary’.

What’s a formulary?

A formulary is a list of medicines that’re available for routine use in a health board. These can be prescribed for common medical conditions.

A formulary also contains information on the guidelines around treating certain medical conditions. This helps healthcare professionals make decisions when treating an individual.

How medicines are added to a formulary

Clinical experts in each health board consider whether to add new medicines to their formulary. They use advice published by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) to do this.

Sometimes established medicines are a better choice than new medicines. If a medicine isn’t available in your local health board, there are usually alternatives on the formulary.

The SMC release the latest advice on new medicines. This is called a decisions release. It shows which medicines have been accepted for use.

Medicines not on a formulary

Healthcare professionals can request to prescribe a medicine that’s not on a formulary. This request will be considered by the health board. Each health board has procedures in place to allow for this.

Formularies for each local health board

How to take your prescription

A healthcare professional will tell you how to take your prescription safely. They’ll explain:

  • what the medicine is called
  • what it’s used for
  • how you should take it
  • possible side effects
  • whether you can stop any of the other medicines you’re taking

It’s important that you follow the advice you’ve been given on how to take your prescription. This’ll make sure you’re taking it safely and that you get the most benefit from it.

Benefits of taking your prescription

Your prescription may benefit you by helping to:

  • treat a long term condition
  • treat an infection
  • relieve symptoms
  • reduce pain
  • improve your mobility
  • reduce the risk of an early death

Some medications are given for a short time. For example, antibiotics for an infection. Other medications are given for longer period of time and will be needed even if you don’t have symptoms. At times there may be a need to try different medications to find the best one for you.

Risks of medicines

Risk is the chance of harm from a medicine. All medicines can cause harm. Some medicines can cause more harm than others.

Some possible risks of medicines include:

  • getting side effects
  • a new medicine reacting with other medicines, alcohol or some foods
  • not getting the results that were expected from a medicine

Who’s more at risk of side effects from a medicine?

You may be at an increased risk from taking certain medications if you:

  • are under 18
  • are over 70 years of age
  • are taking more than 5 medicines
  • are taking a combination of medicines
  • have got more than one medical condition
  • have kidneys or liver that don’t work properly
  • don’t take your medicine as prescribed

Your healthcare professional can help you understand the risks of taking a medicine. They’ll also tell you what you can do to reduce them.

What to do if you experience side effects

If you experience any side effects when taking your medication, you should speak to a healthcare professional.

Reporting side effects

The Yellow Card Scheme allows you to report suspected side effects from any type of medicine you’re taking. It’s run by a medicines safety watchdog called the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Further information on the Yellow Card Scheme

What to do if you think your medicine isn’t working

Speak to a healthcare professional if you don’t think your medicine is working.

The healthcare professional will talk to you about your medicine. They’ll check that it’s working for you and may suggest some changes to your medicine or how you take it. You should follow the advice you’ve been given on how to take your medicine to get the most benefit from it.

Some medicines don’t work immediately. For example, it may take a few days before you start to feel better if you’ve been given an antibiotic or medicine to treat depression.

Do not stop taking essential medicines without talking to your healthcare professional.

Why you shouldn’t share prescriptions

Your medicines have been prescribed specifically for you. Even if 2 people have the same medical condition they may not be able to take the same medicine. This means you should:

  • never share your medicines with anyone
  • not take medicines that have been prescribed for other people

What to do if you no longer need a medicine

You can take medicines you no longer need to a community pharmacy. They’ll destroy them safely for you. This includes empty inhalers. Returning these to the community pharmacy to be destroyed is the most environmentally-friendly way to dispose of them.

You shouldn’t flush medicines down the toilet or put them in a household bin. All medicines should be kept out of the reach of children.

If you have a repeat prescription, only order the medicine you need. Tell your healthcare professional if you no longer take any of the medicines.

Further information on prescriptions

Healthcare Improvement Scotland have created an animation on treatment options. It also explains how you can work with your doctor (or other healthcare professional). This’ll help to ensure you gain the greatest benefit from your treatment.

Medicines in Scotland – What’s the right treatment for me?

Last updated:
12 July 2024