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Can pharmacists prescribe antibiotics UK 2024

One of the biggest problems we face today is being able to get medical advice or attention from your doctor and the NHS. There have been multiple articles in the press over the past several years about how people are struggling to get the care that they need through their normal GP.

Unfortunately, when it comes to prescribing antibiotics there aren’t many alternatives, other than the traditional route of trying to get an appointment with your local medical practice. According to official figures from the CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention), medical practitioners and healthcare providers prescribed over 30 million antibiotics in the UK in 2020.

In this article, our healthcare professionals look at the common question ‘can pharmacists prescribe antibiotics UK?’. Antibiotics are currently the most common types of medications that are used to cure most ailments in the UK.

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60-Second Summary – Can pharmacists prescribe antibiotics UK 2024?

It has been heavily publicised over the past several years that the increasing strain on the NHS is causing issues with patient care and access to treatments. One of the most common causes for medical appointments is to be treated for common ailments that require a short course of antibiotics.

The NHS has launched a new project in February 2024 called the ‘Pharmacy First Scheme’ to provide quicker access to prescription-only medications. The scheme enables a pharmacy to prescribe certain medications without the need to visit your GP.

  • Pharmacy First gives your pharmacy the power to prescribe a small selection of prescription-only medications over the counter.
  • In 2023 there were 358 million GP appointments (including COVID vaccines) which is an increase of 50.9 million from 2019 according to official figures from gov.uk.
  • The new scheme allows for pharmacists to prescribe medications for Sinusitis, Sore Throats, Earache, Insect Bites, Impetigo, Shingles and UTI’s.
  • Pharmacists will launch the new service in their practices from 31st January 2024 onwards and most have agreed to take part in principle.

Most antibiotics are prescribed by a doctor or GP and used to prevent or treat bacterial infections. An antibiotic kills the bacteria or prevents the bacteria from spreading, for most bacterial infections, but not all. There are two main types of antibiotics known as ‘broad spectrum’ for less specific bacterial treatment, or ‘narrow spectrum’ for targeted and specific bacterial treatment.

Common infections for antibiotics treatment:

Antibiotics are not effective against a virus and so are not used to treat viral infections, such as:

Many people assume that antibiotics will work for all types of illnesses to the point that the NHS ran an advertising campaign to raise awareness about this. This is because overuse of antibiotics or long-term use when they aren’t needed can mean that you develop resistance to them. Antibiotics might then not work when you do need them to which can make you very unwell or prevent you from recovering. The video below is one of the 30-second adverts from the NHS about antibiotic use in the UK.

Antibiotics don’t work for everything

It is often up to your doctor to determine whether an infection or condition is bacterial or viral. Your doctor will need to perform tests if they are unsure whether the infection is bacterial or viral.

Note: It’s important to follow the prescribed instructions for antibiotics to avoid allergic reactions or other side effects of antibiotics. You would need to seek medical advice if either situation occurs after taking prescribed medicines.

Health insurance provides services that might help you to get antibiotics more quickly than waiting for an appointment with your GP. One of the main services that Private Health Insurance offers for this is a 24/7 online GP service, which is usually available via an app. This allows you to access prescription only medicines much more quickly in most cases.

Unfortunately, the actual process of being prescribed antibiotics is still the same, regardless of whether you have health insurance or not. The main blockage that patients are experiencing with access to their GP surgery at the moment is being able to contact someone over the telephone and physically booking an appointment or telephone consultation.

The 24/7 GP services that are provided by health insurance policies can give you a quicker diagnosis and might speed up the process of getting antibiotics. This can be a faster way to at least speak to a qualified medical practitioner and getting an opinion about your condition and symptoms.

If you are thinking about health insurance to protect you and your family’s health, to avoid NHS waiting times, then you should speak to an expert. You can get a quote and free expert advice from one of our team of friendly health insurance specialists by calling 0800 009 6559 or CLICK HERE.

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It is possible to use private health insurance to get a prescription for antibiotics in the UK, if you’re able to see a GP who can give you a prescription. Any pharmacy would be able to dispense antibiotics with a proper prescription that has been written by a fully qualified medical practitioner.

Other than this, it is illegal to obtain antibiotics in the UK from a private vendor without a proper prescription from a doctor.

Effectively, the answer is still no, and you would still need to see your GP to get a prescription for antibiotics to treat an illness or sickness. The reasons for this are fairly clear and NHS guidance still states that antibiotics must be prescribed by a fully qualified medical practitioner.

The new Pharmacy First Scheme does allow for certain less severe and more common conditions to be treated by your local pharmacist.

As of 31st January 2024, the new Pharmacy First Scheme was officially rolled out in England to give quicker access to treatments for seven common conditions. This scheme is already in place and working in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Seven core medical conditions that can now be medicated by your local pharmacy on the Pharmacy First Scheme:

Type of Condition or Infection  Age groups
EaracheAge 1 to 17 years
Insect bites (that become infected)Age 1 or above
Impetigo (skin infection)Age 18 or above
SinusitisAge 12 or above
Sore throatAge 5 or above
ShinglesAge 18 or above
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) *Mild symptomsAge 16 to 64 years (women only)

The scheme allows your local community pharmacists and high-street pharmacies or chemist to prescribe and supply antibiotics or anti-viral treatment where appropriate for the above conditions. This means that you will no longer need to wait for a GP appointment or to have to visit your medical practice in these circumstances.

Patients who are experiencing symptoms and feeling unwell for any of the seven conditions that are included in the scheme, can now contact your local pharmacy or chemist and request ‘a private consultation’.

Your chemist or pharmacist will then either see you there and then for a consultation with the pharmacist, or make an appointment to see you in person, by phone, or via video chat. If no appointments are available then you may be referred to your GP or medical practice to see a doctor.

Alternatively, you can still call the NHS non-emergency helpline by dialling 111 on your phone, and they may also refer you to your local pharmacy if they feel it is appropriate. Your pharmacist may also offer some on-the-spot advice for the service, if you decide to visit them to ask for assistance or advice.

There are several possible options when booking an appointment with a pharmacy or chemist on the new scheme, such as:

  • Walk-in appointments (off the street)
  • Appointment with the pharmacist (in person) *in a private room
  • Telephone consultations
  • Video chat consultations
  • Referral to your GP or medical practice

All appointments should be carried out by a fully qualified pharmacist and will include the following:

  • Consent to view your medical records
  • Medical examination to determine best course of action
  • Prescribe for antibiotics or over-the-counter medication
  • Referral to your GP or hospital if necessary

Most pharmacists have agreed to take part in the scheme and each will have their own facilities to offer the service to patients.

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The scheme has been designed and rolled-out in England to relieve some of the pressure that is being placed on the NHS. This should in turn provide a number of potential benefits to patients and to NHS doctors, who are currently over stretched and not able to provide the care that people need.

Top 3 benefits for the Pharmacy First Scheme are:

  • Pharmacy opening hours mean that you would be able to visit your pharmacist outside of the normal GP surgery opening times. Most local and high-street pharmacies are open from 8am to 10pm in the week and open at weekends.
  • GP appointments can be difficult to get and in some cases patients are having to wait for several days or even weeks to get to see a doctor at their GP practice. Pharmacy First appointments should be far more readily available and you can contact multiple different pharmacies to get an appointment if your closest is not available.
  • Pharmacy First Scheme and other similar schemes such as the Blood Pressure Checks and Oral Contraception services for women at pharmacies, is expected to free up as many as 10 million GP appointments per year for higher priorities and emergencies.

Almost all local and high street pharmacies or chemists have agreed to take part in the new Pharmacy First Scheme. The scheme will be rolled out across England from 31st January 2024 and should be covered in most local areas.

There is likely to be a period of transition for pharmacies to be able to provide the service because of staff training, IT infrastructure, and installing or upgrading private consultation rooms on the premises.

According to recent figures from Atlas Prescription Claims data in 2022, the Top 10 most commonly prescribed antibiotics are:

Position or Rank  Name of antibiotic% of antibiotics prescribed in 2022
1Amoxicillin22.6%
2Azithromycin13.4%
3Amoxicillin and Clavulanate Potassium13.0%
4Cefalexin9.7%
5Sulfamethoxazole and Trimethoprim6.5%
6Metronidazole5.2%
7Ciprofloxacin4.6%
8Clindamycin Hydrochloride3.6%
9Clindamycin Phosphate2.8%
10Nitrofurantoin2.3%

Other than via the Pharmacy First Scheme, there are a number of mild antibiotics that you can buy over the counter in your local chemist or in a pharmacy. These are generally less aggressive versions of what your doctor or GP might prescribe for you.

There are some circumstances where you might be able to get over the counter mild medication, depending on:

  • Product Strength
  • Condition being treated
  • Your health and medical history

Some of the most common conditions that are currently treated by over the counter antibiotics are skin infections and wounds. These are normally treated with antibiotic creams containing bacitracin or neomycin.

Skin conditions that can be treated by over the counter antibiotic creams include:

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Apart from those conditions and treatments that can be accessed via the Pharmacy First Scheme, your pharmacist cannot give you antibiotics unless they are qualified and certified as a Pharmacist Independent Prescriber (PIP).

Pharmacists have to follow very strict guidelines set out by the NHS under the ‘Patient Group Directive’ protocols. Under these guidelines, pharmacists are limited to the supply of prescription-only medications by your age, and by your gender in one guidance.

Amoxicillin is the most common and most popular antibiotic in the UK and USA, which is also a type of penicillin. This also means that you cannot get Amoxicillin without a proper prescription from your GP or a fully qualified medical practitioner.

In the UK there were approximately 9.8 million prescriptions dispensed in England, followed by 4.2 million items of Nitrofurantoin dispensed.

The standard process for getting a prescription for a course of antibiotics is to contact your GP surgery or contact the NHS 111 service for a referral. Ultimately, the best and easiest way to get a prescription in the UK is from your doctor or your GP.

When you contact your local medical practice or GP surgery, you’ll either get an appointment to see a doctor in person, over the phone or on video chat. Some GP surgeries operate differently to others and some are busier than others which means that you may have a longer waiting time.

Once you’ve seen your doctor or GP, they should provide you with a prescription for a course of antibiotics if they feel that this is appropriate.

Next, you will need to take your prescription to your local or a high-street chemist for them to dispense the antibiotics. If you’re not able to get to a pharmacy, then you might be able to contact them to order the prescription to be delivered if you have access to this service.

The NHS 111 service was launched several years ago to provide non-emergency advice and medical help for people in England. You can contact NHS 111 in several different ways:

Unfortunately, the NHS 111 service cannot prescribe any treatments, including antibiotics. However, they can refer you to your local pharmacy if they feel that it is appropriate and that you are eligible for the Pharmacy First Scheme.

If you need help or advice about the best health insurance for you and your family, then you can speak to one of our team of friendly experts. It’s important to get a comparison from several of the top health insurance providers to find out which are the best policies for you and to get the best price.

Our experts will compare the best quotes and policies from AXA, Aviva, Bupa, Freedom, Vitality, National Friendly and The Exeter. Each health insurance provider has its own range of policies and products, so not all of them will be right for you.

We’ll also help you to save money on your health insurance premiums by getting the best prices for your cover. For more information and FREE advice, you can contact the team on 0800 009 6559 or CLICK HERE.

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What is the average cost of health insurance UK?

One of the top questions that people ask about health insurance is, ‘how much does it cost on average per month?’. According to recent research taken in 2023, the average cost of a health insurance is £86 per month for a standard personal protection policy. Health insurance policies can vary dramatically based on your age and the type of cover that you need, as well as which insurance provider you choose.

Most core health insurance policies will provide a similar level of protection and coverage for private medical treatments. You can tailor your health insurance policy to suit your needs and your budget by changing the benefits and levels of cover that you receive.

Is health insurance worth it?

Health insurance is the same as most other personal protection policies that you can buy, it is down to your own personal preference and attitude to risk. The other major issue is whether you can afford to pay for health insurance every month because it can be expensive.

If you ever need to claim on your health insurance policy then the benefits can be life changing and even lifesaving. The medical treatments and care that is provided by the NHS in the UK is among the best in the world, especially for chronic illness. Unfortunately, it is a well-known fact that the NHS is struggling to meet demand and that the levels of private medical treatment are generally far superior to public health treatments.

Example: If you needed knee surgery then you would have to wait for months or even years on the NHS, whereas private health insurance will give you access to better treatment, leading specialists, and within weeks usually. Rehabilitation and therapies cover that are also provided by most health insurance policies can be invaluable, especially if you are self-employed for example.

Is private health insurance better than the NHS?

Currently, the biggest issue with the NHS is the waiting times for any consultations and access to treatments, because of how stretched its resources are. The NHS provides some of the best care in the world for chronic illnesses and diseases, such as diabetes, MS, epilepsy, and asthma.

Health insurance is designed to complement and support the treatment that you can receive on the National Health Service, as well as giving you access to specialists for other medical issues such as musculoskeletal issues and cancer treatment, which are also the top reasons for claims on health insurance cover.

The main issues with NHS treatment currently and reasons for people taking out health insurance:

  • Long waiting lists for consultations, results and treatment
  • Overcrowded hospitals
  • Lack of beds
  • Shortages of NHS nurses and doctors
  • Some treatments not available (especially cancer treatments)
  • Specialists only available on private health insurance
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What is the best health insurance UK?

There are lots of different policy options when considering health insurance as well as your choice of several main insurance providers. The other consideration is whether you don’t take out health insurance and opt for receiving treatment on the NHS or paying for treatment yourself as and when you need it.

We’re constantly reviewing the top health insurance companies in the UK to find out which provide the best service, value, products and treatments. Based on our most recent reviews we suggest the following as the best health insurance UK 2023:

  1. Aviva Healthcare Solutions (Trustpilot score: 4.1 out of 5.0)
  2. BUPA Health Insurance (Trustpilot score: 4.0 out of 5.0)
  3. Vitality Personal Healthcare (Trustpilot score: 3.9 out of 5.0)
  4. Exeter Health+ (Trustpilot score: 4.4 out of 5.0)
  5. AXA PPP (Trustpilot score: 4.1 out of 5.0)
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