The differences between private and NHS prescriptions, and which to choose.

The NHS provides healthcare to all in the UK free at point of service. For some things however, there are charges, such as prescriptions in England. Long waiting times, waiting in doctor surgeries, queuing up at the pharmacy, exposing yourself to more bugs, and taking time off work can all be reasons to seek private healthcare services. Private prescriptions are a part of that.

NHS Prescription

In England, each item on an NHS prescription costs £9. That is £9 for each individual item, not each prescription. It is possible to buy a Prescription Prepayment Certificate for an annual fee, which covers all your prescriptions for the year, or a three-monthly version. If you have a long-term condition requiring two prescriptions a month, you would save well over £100 a year with a pre-paid certificate.

In some cases, the prescription items would cost more than £9 to buy, in other cases they cost a lot less.

Private Prescription


If you obtain a prescription through a private consultation, the cost is calculated based on the price of the medication itself rather than a flat rate. This can lead to certain medications working out cheaper. Amoxicillin, a medication commonly used to treat lower respiratory tract infections, used at one pill three times a day for 5 days ie. 15 tablets cost £0.78 pence.

There are many drugs however where the cost is considerably higher, which is something to consider when accessing medication privately. Medications such as Simvastatin for lowering cholesterol can cost around £30.


Another advantage of private prescriptions is that they may be able to prescribe medication which is not available on the NHS, allowing a wider range of treatment options. In the NHS, often the cheapest option of medication must be prescribed following recommendations from the Medical Management teams within the CCG who audits practices, spends, and monitor individual prescribers. Whereas in private prescribing there is a wider choice as those limitations are not set.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) regulates all medication sold in the UK and so for a generics firm to be granted a licence, they must match the standard of the brand leader, the medicine must contain the same amount of the active ingredients and must interact with the body in the same way. This means that the quality of any tablets sold in the UK is very strictly controlled, and consumers are well-protected.

It is worth noting that if you are travelling abroad, medication prescribed by your GP which is legal in the UK, may not be legal in the country that you are travelling to. So make sure that you check the active ingredients in your medicine, so that you can seek alternatives or make sure that you travel with the right documentation. You can also check what vaccine you require before your trip.


Private prescriptions do incur a dispensing fee by the pharmacy. It can be up to £10 but varies from dispenser to dispenser.


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