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Foreign Prescriptions In The UK: Are They Valid?

Getting your medications as and when due, is critical to managing health conditions. So, it is totally normal for you to be concerned about filling your medications, especially when you are away from home or overseas. In this article, we are going to be looking at whether foreign prescriptions are accepted in the UK.

Are Foreign Prescriptions Valid in the UK? Foreign Prescriptions are not valid or accepted in the UK. Supplying medicine based on prescriptions issued outside the UK is considered illegal in the UK. However, there are exceptions to those issued in the EEA (European Economic Area) or Switzerland.

Read on for more information regarding drug prescriptions in the UK and what to do in case of emergencies.

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Do UK Pharmacies Accept Foreign Prescriptions?

Llyods Pharmacy UK

Foreign prescriptions are prescriptions issued by a doctor in a particular country and then presented in another country. Simply put, it is when a patient presents a prescription from Country A to a pharmacist or doctor in Country B.

In the UK, there are strict laws guiding drug dispensation and prescriptions. The Medicines for Human Use (Prescribing by EEA Practitioners) Regulations 2008 largely guides the laws on this subject. According to this Regulation, UK pharmacies are prohibited from accepting foreign prescriptions. As a result, issuing drugs based on prescriptions outside the UK, the EEA and Switzerland are considered illegal in the UK.

So, if you are travelling to the UK, it is advisable to bring your medication along. Alternatively, you can see a doctor in the UK to prescribe a new medication for you. Although this process might take longer, it is better suited for people who are planning an extended visit or stay in the UK.

Exceptions To The No Foreign Prescription Rule In The UK

Although it is illegal for UK pharmacies to accept foreign prescriptions, there are few exceptions to this rule. They include:

  1. UK pharmacies are allowed to accept prescriptions from countries in the EEA (European Economic Area) and Switzerland. You will able to present your foreign prescriptions in UK pharmacies if your doctor or dentist is registered in a European Economic Country or Switzerland.

However, you should note that EEA provision only applies to EEA doctors and dentists. Unfortunately, other medical practitioners such as nurses and pharmacists are not included in the provisions made for EEA or Switzerland.

This means that a drug prescription written by a pharmacist or a nurse in the EEA and Switzerland cannot be accepted or dispensed in a UK pharmacy.

Importantly, you must be able to prove that your doctor is from an EEA country or Switzerland and provide a valid prescription from such a doctor. Alternatively, you can also ask your doctor to request on your behalf as far as the doctor is registered in the EEA or Switzerland.

However, a pharmacy in the UK may not be able to accept your prescription, even if it is from EEA or Switzerland doctor due to a language barrier. That is, a prescription written in a language that the pharmacist doesn’t understand.

Furthermore, UK pharmacies cannot accept or dispense prescriptions of drugs that are controlled or drugs that do not have a UK marketing authorization.

So, even though the prescription for these drugs is from registered medical practitioners in the EEA area, they won’t be considered valid. You might have to look for other alternatives for your supply.

What To Look For In A EEA Or Switzerland Prescription

Before you accept an EEA or Switzerland prescriptions, you have to be sure that what you are looking at is the real deal. The following are the information you have to look out for:

  • The date the prescription was signed
  • The name and address of the EEA or Switzerland Registered Doctor or Dentist.
  • The name of the patient and the address of the patient if the patient is more than 12 years old.
  • The details of the drugs, these include the common name, strength, and dosage.
  • The qualifications of the EEA or Switzerland registered Doctor.

All the information above should be written in ink, and they can’t be cleaned off.

What To Do In Case Of Emergency

In an event where you need your meds urgently, you may able to get them with the following conditions.

Life-threatening emergencies:  If you are in a life-threatening situation, and you need access to medication immediately, a pharmacist may be able to offer an alternative solution. At the end of the day, the goal is to preserve and save a life. However, this is only applicable in life-threatening cases.

Otherwise, you must provide evidence that you have been prescribed before by a doctor registered and living in the UK, EEA or Switzerland. If you have all these, then the next thing is to visit the pharmacy.

At the pharmacy, you will have to agree that you need the medicine urgently. In addition, the pharmacist will have to be satisfied that the dose is appropriate for the patient. If satisfied, the pharmacist may provide an emergency supply until you can get your usual supply.

Note: A pharmacist may not be able to dispense controlled drugs. In a case where the pharmacist is unable to dispense an emergency supply of a drug, they are obliged to advise you on alternatives.

How Long Is A Prescription Valid?

Like drugs, prescriptions expire too, and you need to be conversant with how long they are valid for. Generally, prescriptions in the UK are valid for 6 months from the date signed on the prescription, unless of course, the prescription is for a controlled drug. 

However, the date on a prescription can either be the date it was signed by the doctor or the date specified by the doctor for the drug not to be dispensed until that date. In a case where both these dates appear, your 6 months count starts from the date that the doctor specified for the drug to be dispensed.

What To Do When Your Meds Gets Stolen or Lost During A Trip

It is not unusual for your prescription drugs or stolen while on a trip. If you are visiting the UK and this happens to you, below are some tips to will facilitate your either replacement or alternative options.

NOTE: This option is only available to those living in the EEA or Switzerland.

  • Plan before you leave: it is advisable to plan your trip and all you will need during your trip, including your meds. If you can pack your prescription bottle or a copy of your prescription drugs, then do, it will help a great deal in the event of theft or loss.

However, if they are too much to pack, you can either compile a list containing all the details of the drug and the doctor’s address and number or take a photo of the drugs and the details.

This way, you can prove that the drugs have been prescribed for you before.

  • It is also helpful if you can get a letter from your doctor. This letter must include the details of the prescriptions, reasons for needing the drug, and your name and address. You can present this letter to the pharmacist for a replacement.
  • Report to the Police: In the case of theft, it is advisable to file an official report with the police. This official report could help you prove that your medication was stolen and needs to be replaced.
  • To prevent theft or loss, it is better to carry your drugs in a bag that is always with you. Packing it in a suitcase might be convenient, but it is also very easy to misplace or get stolen.
  • You can also consult a doctor in the UK for your prescription replacement. If you are not in too much of a hurry, this is a better way. The UK doctor will make sure you end up with the appropriate replacement, especially if the drugs you are looking for are brand name drugs.
  • If all the above doesn’t work, you can opt for shipping your prescriptions drugs to you. However, before you do this, you need to research the laws guiding shipment of prescription drugs in your area. For instance, you cannot ship controlled drugs into the UK.

Tips on How to Manage Your Prescription Drugs While Travelling

  • Carry them along: Never travel without your prescription drugs. If you are travelling to the UK and you are not from EEA or Switzerland, it is better to carry your medications as your travel. If you pack them along, getting your prescription will be impossible unless it is a life-threatening situation.

Also, don’t forget to pack them in a carry-on bag that is always with you. This is to prevent theft and facilitate easy access.

Another tip is to always carry more than enough. Carrying more than enough will ensure that even if your trip gets extended, you will still be covered.

  • Leave your Meds in their Original packs and containers: Repacking your meds may seem convenient but could cause problems in the long run. If your meds are not in their original package, it could cause issues such as delays or confiscation during a security search.

More so, removing your meds from their original packs may expose it to harmful conditions.

  • Always take a copy of your prescription and a letter from your doctor with all the necessary details I mentioned above.
  • Be sure you are on the right side of the law: a drug might be legal in one country and illegal in another. Before travelling with your medications, research the country you are visiting to make sure the drug is legal in the country you are travelling to.
  • Research on whether your meds are sun-sensitive or not. To avoid sunburns when out.
  • It might also be helpful to find out the generic names of your prescribed drugs, in case you don’t find the one you are used at your destination.

Differences between Brand Name Drugs and Generic Drugs

A brand name drug goes through a process of research, development, and tests before marketing. The drug has a trademark, that is protected by a patent. Selling or producing such drugs is only limited to the company that has the patent for the drug.

The patent of a brand name drug usually gives the company a monopoly of the drug until such time that the patent expires. After expiry, the generic versions of the drug can now come up in the market after fulfilling Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)’s requirements.

Generic drugs, therefore, are drugs that are copies of brand name drugs. They are expected to have the same use, dosage, safety, risks, and strength of the brand name drug.

Generally, there are two basic differences between a brand name drug and a generic drug. These include the name of the drug and the cost of the drug.

The name of a brand name drug is usually different from its generic versions. The brand name drug name is created by the pharmaceutical company that created the drug in the first place, while the generic drug is usually named after the active ingredient in the drug.

A brand name drug is usually more expensive than a generic drug. Most times, public health facilities go for generic drugs rather than the brand name drugs. Generic drugs are not only cheaper, but they are also as effective as the brand name drug.

If you are wondering why brand name drugs are more expensive, it is because the makers of brand drugs have to pay for research, development, testing, advertising, and promotion. This also explains why brand name drugs are given a patent for the monopoly over the drug for a period of time.

On the other hand, generic drugs don’t have to go through the research and some other costs that brand name drugs do. So, they can afford to be less expensive than the original drug.

Generic drugs are as safe as brand name drugs. They are tested using the same criteria for brand name drugs. Generic drugs are also required to follow Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) regulations before being approved.

Generic drugs are required to have the same active ingredients as the brand name drug, The same mode of consumption, quality, strength, and dosage. Though subtle differences are allowed in terms of colour, packaging, shape, and labelling.

 In addition, generic drugs are permitted to have flavouring and a different preservative from the brand name drug, however, these inactive ingredients must be safe for human consumption.

Can I buy Drugs Without Prescription?

There are some drugs you can buy without needing a prescription. A prescription drug is one that requires a prescription from a registered medical practitioner before it can either be dispensed or sold. Prescriptions are necessary because these drugs can be abused if not supervised. In essence, your prescription ensures that you have a legal, medical reason for using the drug.

Drugs that you can buy without a prescription?

A lot of drugs for minor illnesses do not require a prescription to be dispensed. These type of drugs are called ‘over the counter drugs’- which means you can easily buy them, treat the illness without seeing a doctor. Some of these drugs include:

  • Pain killers, cold and cough medicines or syrups.
  • Fever
  • Medicines for Diarrhoea, sore throat and allergies
  • Itching and constipation
  • Medicine, like eyedrops and emergency birth control drugs. Though emergency contraception drugs are available without a prescription, you might need pharmacist supervision, in that case, you will have to buy from behind the counter.

Tips to Help You Take Your Meds According to Prescription

Taking your medication according to the prescription is critical to managing that health condition as well as your safety. That said, here are some tips that can help you.

  • Create a schedule and stick to it: fix a time that you will be taking your meds and stick to it. To aid you, you can set an alarm to remind you or create a routine that will make you remember. For instance, you can choose to take your meds after breakfast every day.
  • Always bring more than enough whenever you are outside the house or travelling. Taking more than enough will ensure that you don’t get stranded whenever you are not at home.
  • Develop a medicine calendar or record to keep track of your dosage.
  • You can invest in a pill container. This will help you organize your meds. You can separate the meds in the pill container to avoid confusion. If you are using a pill container, you will have to fill at the same time whenever you finish what you have in the container.
  • If you are travelling overseas, apart from bringing more than enough medication, always make sure that your medications are secured in your carry-on bag to avoid losing them or having them stolen.

Sources and Further Reading

The Pharmaceutical Journal “Law and Ethics: Dispensing overseas Prescriptions”,3 July 2004.

What to do when presented with a prescription from another European country: insight from a qualitative study of pharmacists in England.

REGULATORY GUIDANCE for Dispensing Prescriptions issued by EEA doctors and dentists, Revised December 2010.

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Hi, I'm Kat, an Australian that moved to London in 2013 to start a new adventure. What a roller-coaster that was! I love helping others move to the UK and people explore the world! I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.

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