How long is a prescription valid?
Published 13 Aug 2020 • Updated 14 Aug 2020 • By Candice Salomé
A prescription is a document that allows the patient to be given medication, equipment (crutches, glasses, etc.) or to undergo a medical procedure (consultation with a specialist, radiology, etc.). Depending on the type of prescription, the period of validity differs. So, what does a valid prescription look like? How long is a prescription valid?
We tell you everything in our article!
The period of validity of a prescription as well as its compliance with legal requirements are necessary for medicine to be dispensed or a medical procedure to be carried out.
What does a valid prescription need to include?
For a prescription to be legally valid, it must include the following elements:
- the date,
- the name of the patient,
- the name of the medication or medical procedure requested,
- the prescribed dose of medication,
- the duration of the treatment and the number of renewals if necessary,
- the prescriber's signature in ink (doctor, dentist, nurse, etc.)
It must be issued on paper or in electronic form by a healthcare professional.
In addition, if the patient is taking a medication that should not be abruptly stopped or taken without medical supervision, it must be noted on the prescription and be specified verbally to the patient.
The prescriber's signature must appear immediately below the last line of the prescription to avoid additions and fraud.
How long is a prescription valid?
A standard prescription is valid for 6 months from the date on the prescription, unless the medicine prescribed contains a controlled medicine. The patient therefore has 6 months to go to the pharmacy and have the medication dispensed. Beyond this time, the prescription is no longer valid and the pharmacist will no longer be able to give the treatment(s) to the patient. The date on the prescription can be either:
- the date it was signed by the healthcare professional who issued it, or
- a date the prescriber has indicated the prescription should not be dispensed before.
If both dates are listed on the prescription, the 6 months starts from the later date. This applies to both NHS and privately-prescribed medicines.
As for the duration of the treatment prescribed on the prescription, it is a maximum of 1 year, except in special cases of controlled substances.
Repeat prescriptions allow the same prescriptions to be dispensed more than once. It must be dispensed for the first time within 6 months of the date on the prescription. After this, the repeat prescription can continue to be valid beyond 6 months, according to the instructions on the prescription.
In case of emergency and in the case of treatment that cannot be interrupted without serious health consequences or as part of chronic treatment, the pharmacist can dispense certain medications even if the prescription has expired. This is subject to certain conditions. You must have been prescribed the medicine before and the pharmacist:
- will need to consult with you in person
- must be in agreement that you need the medicine immediately
- will need evidence that you have been prescribed the medicine before
- must be satisfied that the dosage is appropriate
The pharmacist can prescribe an emergency supply of up to 30 days' worth of treatment for most prescription medications, with a few exceptions:
- insulin, ointments, creams or an asthma inhaler - only the smallest pack size will be provided
- oral contraceptives - only enough for a full treatment cycle will be provided
- liquid oral antibiotics - only the smallest quantity to provide a full course of treatment will be provided
- controlled medicines - only a limited range of controlled medicines can be prescribed in an emergency, such as those for epilepsy
Following an emergency dispensing, a new prescription from the doctor will be required.
For controlled medicines:
Some medicines are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs legislation. These include medications such as morphine, pethidine, methadone, fentanyl and oxycodone. These medicines are sometimes misused, so strict legal controls apply to their supply.
A prescription for a controlled medicine is valid for 28 days from the date on the prescription. If you have a prescription for a controlled medicine that states it should be dispensed in several instalments, the first instalment must usually be dispensed on the date specified or within 28 days of the date on the prescription.
For medical examinations:
Orders concerning paramedical services such as nursing care, physiotherapy, speech therapy or laboratory tests are not subject to any time limit.
However, it is strongly recommended that examinations be carried out quickly after the prescription.
For appointments with a specialist:
For appointments with a dermatologist, cardiologist, surgeon, rheumatologist or other specialist, the GP's letter or referral has no expiry date. However, in practice, the specialist may decide that the consultation is no longer necessary if the patient's state of health has changed.
For eye glasses and contacts:
Prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses are generally valid for up to 2 years.
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