If you urgently need medicine, contact your prescriber immediately to arrange a prescription. If this is not possible, you may be able to get medicine from a pharmacist in an emergency, subject to certain conditions.
You must have been prescribed the medicine before by a doctor, dentist, nurse independent prescriber, optometrist independent prescriber or other healthcare professional, who is registered in the UK. In addition to this, the pharmacist:
- will usually need to see you face-to-face
- must agree that you need the medicine immediately
- will usually need evidence that you have been prescribed that medicine before
- must be satisfied with the dose that is most appropriate for you to take
The pharmacist may provide an emergency supply of up to 30 days' treatment for most prescription medicines, with these exceptions:
- insulin, an ointment, a cream or an asthma inhaler – only the smallest pack size will be supplied
- the contraceptive pill – only enough for a full treatment cycle will be supplied
- liquid oral antibiotics – only the smallest quantity to provide a full course of treatment will be supplied
- permitted controlled medicines (controlled drugs) – up to 5 days' treatment
Only a limited range of controlled medicines can be prescribed in an emergency, such as those for epilepsy (phenobarbital). Many commonly used controlled medicines such as morphine or diamorphine cannot be supplied without a prescription by a pharmacist in an emergency.
The pharmacist will then make a note in their prescription book of:
- your name and address
- the nature of the emergency
- the date of the emergency supply
- the name, quantity, form (e.g. capsules, tablets or liquid) and strength of the medicine
Even if the pharmacist is unable to give you an emergency supply of a medicine, they will advise you on how to obtain any essential medical care you may need.
Is it an NHS service?
No. Supplying medicine in an emergency is a private service that is not funded by the NHS, meaning that pharmacists can charge for it. The charge will vary, depending on the medicine and the pharmacist's policy.
Getting your medicine or a prescription
You may be able to get your medicine or a prescription in one of the following ways:
- seeing a local GP and asking for a prescription. Staff at an NHS walk-in centre may be able to arrange for you to see a GP
- asking a local pharmacist if they can provide an emergency supply of your medicine
- in some cases, a nurse at an NHS walk-in centre may be able to supply your medicine or a prescription
- outside normal GP hours, you may be able to get a prescription from an out-of-hours service
Visitors to the UK
If you are a visitor to the UK, you may be able to get an emergency supply of medicine from a pharmacist:
- at your request, if there is evidence that a doctor or dentist registered in a European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland has prescribed the medicine for you before
- at the request of a doctor or dentist registered in the EEA or Switzerland
- if you have a valid prescription from a doctor or dentist registered in the EEA or Switzerland
However, this arrangement is not applicable to medicines prescribed by other EEA or Swiss healthcare professionals, such as nurses, and it does not apply to all medicines. For example, pharmacists cannot provide an emergency supply of:
- controlled medicines
- medicines that don't have a UK marketing authorisation
In addition to this, the pharmacist may not be able to provide an emergency supply of medicine if the prescription is written in a language they cannot understand.
It is illegal for pharmacists to supply medicines based on prescriptions issued outside the UK, the EEA or Switzerland. This includes prescriptions issued by doctors in the US and Canada.
Finding a pharmacy
You can use our services directory to find a pharmacy near you.
Read the answers to more questions about medicines.
Page last reviewed: 31 May 2019
Next review due: 31 May 2022