Under UK law, only "appropriate practitioners" can prescribe medicine in the UK. A prescriber is a healthcare professional who can write a prescription. This applies to both NHS prescriptions and private prescriptions.
Appropriate practitioners are:
- an independent prescriber – someone able to prescribe medicines under their own initiative
- a supplementary prescriber – someone able to prescribe medicines in accordance with a pre-agreed care plan that's been drawn up between a doctor and their patient
Independent prescribers are healthcare professionals who are responsible for:
- assessing your health
- making clinical decisions about how to manage your condition, including prescribing medication
- doctors – such as your GP or a hospital doctor
- dentists – who may prescribe medication to treat a condition affecting your teeth
- nurse independent prescribers – who can prescribe any medicine for any medical condition within their competence, including some controlled medicines under the Misuse of Drugs legislation (with the exception of diamorphine, cocaine and dipipanone for the treatment of addiction)
- pharmacist independent prescribers – who can prescribe any medicine for any medical condition within their competence, including some controlled medicines (except diamorphine, cocaine and dipipanone for the treatment of addiction)
- optometrist independent prescribers – who can prescribe any medicine for conditions that affect the eye and surrounding tissue, but can't prescribe any controlled medicines independently
- physiotherapists – healthcare professionals who use physical techniques, such as massage and manipulation, to promote healing
- podiatrists – foot care specialists
- therapeutic radiologists – specialists in using radiation to treat cancer and some other medical conditions
Supplementary prescribers are responsible for continuing your care after an independent prescriber has assessed your health.
They work with the independent prescriber to fulfil a clinical management plan agreed between the prescribers and you.
Supplementary prescribers include:
- diagnostic radiographers – specialists in using medical imaging techniques, such as X-rays
- therapeutic radiographers
- optometrists – healthcare professionals who examine eyes, test sight, and prescribe and dispense glasses and contact lenses
A supplementary prescriber can prescribe any medicine, including controlled medicines, for any condition within their competence under the agreed clinical management plan.
For example, your GP (an independent prescriber) may assess a condition such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and refer you to a specialist physiotherapist (a supplementary prescriber) to manage your long-term care.
Your physiotherapist will be able to prescribe medicines, such as inhalers, under your clinical management plan.
Read the answers to more questions about medicines.
Page last reviewed: 16 January 2017
Next review due: 16 January 2020