Prescribing over the counter medicines

In line with NHS England recommendations, NHS Dorset has asked GP teams to stop prescribing medicine and treatment for 35 minor conditions listed on this page. This allows GPs to focus on caring for people who have more complex needs.

NHS Dorset wants people to have the confidence to look after themselves where they can. This gives people greater control of their health without the need to visit their GP for minor conditions.

Your GP, nurse or pharmacist will not generally give you a prescription for over the counter medicines for a range of minor health concerns, even if you qualify for free prescriptions. Instead, over the counter medicines are available to buy in a pharmacy or supermarket in your local community.

The team of health professionals at your local pharmacy can offer help and clinical advice to manage minor health concerns and if your symptoms suggest it’s more serious, they’ll ensure you get the care you need.

  • 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 of the lip

  • Infrequent constipation

  • Infrequent migraine

  • Insect bites and stings

  • Mild acne

  • Minor burns and scalds

  • Mild cystitis

  • Mild dry skin

  • Mild irritant dermatitis

  • Mild to moderate hay fever

  • Minor conditions associated with pain, discomfort and fever (e.g. aches and sprains, headache, period pain, back pain)

  • Mouth ulcers

  • Nappy rash

  • Oral thrush

  • Prevention of tooth decay

  • Ringworm/athlete’s foot

  • Sunburn

  • Sun protection

  • Teething/mild toothache

  • Threadworms

  • Travel sickness

  • Warts and verrucae

Why does the NHS want to reduce prescribing of over the counter medicines?

The NHS needs to make difficult choices about where money is spent to get the most benefit for people in Dorset.

NHS Dorset wants for each medicine prescribed to offer the best opportunity for improved health and wellbeing. For the most part, prescribing of over-the-counter medicines does not achieve this. The NHS has been spending around £136 million a year on prescriptions for medicines that can be bought from a pharmacy or supermarket (£5 million a year in Dorset). 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. Reducing prescribing for over the counter medicines in Dorset would also significantly free up GP appointment times.

For further information, the NHS has produced a leaflet explaining changes to prescribing of OTC medicines.

How your local pharmacy team can help you

Your local pharmacy team are qualified healthcare professionals with the knowledge and skills to help with many health concerns. They may be accessible when your GP practice is shut, such as late in the evening and at weekends. Pharmacists can give clinical advice, right there and then, and help you choose the most appropriate treatment.

If your symptoms suggest it’s more serious, they’ll ensure you get the care you need.

Additionally, community pharmacies can now supply NHS medicines (including some prescription-only medicines) to treat seven common health conditions via the Pharmacy First service, which covers:

  • Earache (1-17 years)

  • Impetigo (1 year and over)

  • Infected insect bite (1 year and over)

  • Shingles (18 years and over)

  • Sinusitis (12 years and over)

  • Sore throat (5 years and over)

  • Uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women (16-64 years)

Please note, normal prescription charges will apply for prescription only medicines.

What can you do?

Keeping a few useful medicines at home means you can treat common conditions immediately without needing to see a healthcare professional.

These could include:

  • Painkillers to help with pain, discomfort and fever

  • Indigestion medicines, oral rehydration salts and treatments for constipation and diarrhoea

  • Treatments for seasonal conditions like colds and hay fever

  • Sunblock and after sun

  • Basic first aid items (for example plasters or antiseptic cream). If you have children, make sure you also have products suitable for them. Speak to your local pharmacy team about what medicines to keep at home, where to store them safely and how to use them

What if my symptoms don’t improve?

Your local pharmacy team can tell you how long to expect the symptoms of your condition to last. If they 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 and click on ‘Services near you’ to help you choose the right service.

A&E and 999 should only be used for serious and life-threatening emergencies.

If you have any concerns or questions:

Please contact NHS Dorset using the customer care email: