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How much is a private prescription UK?

In recent years, numerous news reports have highlighted the negative impact of NHS struggles on patient care and treatment availability. One major concern for many UK residents is the increased difficulty in accessing necessary medication when they fall ill.

According to figures from Statista, more than 1.08 billion prescription medicines were dispensed from community pharmacies in England in 2022/23. This is a significant rise compared to the early 2000s, with less than 700,000 items being dispensed in 2006.

Private prescriptions are a quicker way to receive medication if you are struggling to make an appointment with an NHS doctor. There are also other scenarios where a private prescription can be useful (e.g. if the medication that you need isn’t available on the NHS yet).

Private healthcare is becoming an appealing option for many UK consumers, but most people worry about the higher cost of private services. Policies like private health insurance exist to help make private medical care more affordable and accessible for individuals, couples, families, and businesses across the UK.

In this article, our health insurance experts explain what private prescriptions are, where you can get them, and whether a private health insurance policy would cover the cost.

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60-Second Summary – How much is a private prescription UK?

It has been widely reported across the UK that the NHS has been struggling to keep up with patient demand for treatment and care. One main issue caused by this is that it is now often extremely challenging to make an appointment with an NHS GP.

Full-time work or a busy schedule can also make it difficult to find time to speak to a medical professional about your health. If you need medication, opting for private prescriptions can offer a faster and more convenient route compared to longer waiting times for an appointment with an NHS doctor.

  • Certain medications can be bought over the counter or be prescribed by a pharmacist, but often a doctor’s prescription will be necessary to get the medication that you need.
  • Private prescriptions can be issued by both NHS and private doctors, though NHS doctors can only issue private prescriptions in specific circumstances.
  • There are some situations where an NHS prescription will be more suitable. For example, if you are eligible for free NHS prescriptions then NHS care may be a better option for you.
  • Top-rated health insurance providers like Bupa, Aviva, Vitality and WPA offer free health support apps, which can be used to access private GP consultations. This can then lead to private prescriptions being issued if the GP thinks this is appropriate.
  • Vitality members also receive up to £100 per year toward the cost of private prescriptions, to help make this option more affordable.

A prescription is a legal document issued and signed by a licenced doctor, indicating their permission for you to receive specific forms of medication.

Once you have your prescription, you then take it to your local pharmacy to be filled. The pharmacist will either immediately provide you with the medication that you need, or they will order it for you to pick up at a later point.

You can enter your postcode into this easy NHS tool to find out where your nearest pharmacy is located if you aren’t sure: NHS – Find a Pharmacy

In some cases, you might need to get a ‘repeat prescription’ if the medication that you have been prescribed is for long-term use. You can normally order an NHS repeat prescription through your GP surgery or online via the NHS app.

The NHS has been working to try and improve prescription services for patients in recent years. Their latest update has been to try and make the NHS ‘Electronic Prescription Service’ more widely available across the country. This service would allow patients who have not been seen in person (e.g. a telephone consultation) to receive their prescription directly.

Making the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) more widely available: the challenge

Private prescriptions are available as an alternative option to a standard NHS prescription. The prescription itself isn’t any different, but NHS charges won’t apply when it is filled.

There are several occasions in which you would be given a private prescription such as:

  • Your prescription has been written by a private (non-NHS) physician, doctor, or specialist (private doctors are not allowed to issue NHS prescriptions)
  • An NHS medical professional has written your prescription for a medication that isn’t yet available on the NHS
  • You have ordered your prescription online by filling in an online health questionnaire on a pharmacy website (only available for specific less serious illnesses)

While most people will simply get their prescriptions from the NHS, there are definite advantages to private prescriptions. A private prescription is often much faster and easier to get, especially if there are no appointments available with your own NHS GP.

Given that more than half of UK workers will work 31 – 45 hours per week*, finding time for a standard GP appointment can be challenging or even impossible. Booking an appointment with a private GP can be much simpler, allowing you to schedule your appointment outside of your working hours.

Note:* This is according to the most recent figures reported by Statista, which highlight the difference in average UK working hours between 1995 – 2023.

A prescription allows a doctor to recommend the appropriate medication for your medical condition, illness, or injury. Having a prescription makes things much simpler when you go to the pharmacy, as the pharmacist will know exactly which medication to dispense.

There are also restrictions in place for some medicines, so a prescription allows you to receive medication that wouldn’t otherwise be available to you.

For some minor illnesses and injuries, you can buy the medicine that you need without a prescription. Many of these common medicines will be sold in your local pharmacy or even in a supermarket. These medications can often be found on the shelf, and include things like smaller boxes of painkillers (e.g. paracetamol, ibuprofen), cold and flu remedies and allergy relief tablets.

There are also certain medications which don’t require a prescription, but they do need to be bought directly from a pharmacist. These are known as ‘over-the-counter’ medications, as they are usually stored behind a counter and aren’t directly accessible to customers.

For example, boxes of higher-strength painkillers would be behind the counter, as the amount sold may need to be monitored. In this situation, the pharmacist will check that the customer is buying an ‘appropriate’ amount of medication for what they need.

This helpful video from Boots’ chief pharmacist explains the difference between each type of medication and why some medications need to be dispensed by a pharmacist.

Boots – Pharmacy medicines

It’s frustrating when you are unwell and can’t make an appointment with your GP, especially if you only need a short course of medication (e.g. antibiotics to treat an infection).

There are various ways in which you can be issued a private prescription, to make it faster and simpler to receive the medication that you need.

Private prescription from a private GP service

Private GPs work as an alternative to NHS services, and they can often offer 24/7 consultations. This makes private GP services far more flexible, allowing you to fit your appointment in around your work or other commitments.

A private GP will be able to assess your symptoms and issue you with a private prescription if you need medicine.

There are no differences in qualifications compared to NHS GPs, but you will need to pay for private GP consultations. You can opt to self-pay for your appointment, or you may be able to pay for it via policies like private health insurance.

Private prescription from the NHS

The National Health Service (NHS) can provide both NHS and private prescriptions depending on the situation. In most cases, you will receive an NHS prescription if you have had a consultation with an NHS doctor or specialist.

If you need a medicine that the NHS hasn’t approved yet, your NHS GP may be able to prescribe this under a private prescription. There are strict guidelines for this, and they will only do this when it is absolutely necessary.

A main disadvantage of trying to get a prescription from the NHS is the amount of time that it can take to make an appointment with an NHS doctor.

Private prescription from a pharmacy

The ‘Pharmacy First’ scheme allows pharmacists to prescribe medications for minor illnesses (e.g. earaches, flu etc.). These medicines would be issued under a private prescription that the pharmacist would sign before dispensing your medication.

The NHS encourages patients to see their local pharmacist for minor illnesses due to high demand for NHS treatments and services. A recent NHS newsletter noted that pharmacists can often recommend effective over-the-counter medicines and treatments.

The pharmacist might ask questions about your medical history and other factors to determine if a particular medication is the appropriate treatment for you. If the medication that you need is in stock, you can normally take it home on the same working day.

A pharmacist can only help in certain situations though, and they may recommend that you make an appointment with a GP for more serious health conditions.

Using private health insurance

In the UK, you can use private health insurance to get a prescription for medicine if you visit a GP or specialist who can prescribe it. Most health insurance providers also offer online pathways to consultations and prescriptions (where appropriate) via a health support app.

Any pharmacy can then dispense the medicine you need, as you have a valid prescription from a fully qualified medical practitioner.

If you are considering buying health insurance to protect yourself, your family or your employees, then you should speak to an expert. You can contact our friendly health insurance specialists on 0800 009 6559 or CLICK HERE.

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If you have ever filled a private prescription, you will have paid what is known as a ‘private prescription charge’. This is an upfront payment which is paid to the pharmacy to cover both the cost of dispensing the medication and the full cost of the medication itself.

There will be different fees charged for private prescriptions compared to the standard NHS fee of £9.65 per item. Many people assume that private prescriptions will cost more, but private prescriptions can be cheaper than an NHS prescription.

As the NHS has a fixed prescription charge, sometimes you end up paying more for your prescription than if you simply bought the same medication over the counter. Private prescriptions don’t have a set charge, and this is why they can be cheaper in some situations.

The cost of medication will vary between pharmacies, so it can be useful to compare prices to work out which pharmacy will be cheapest.

You can also ask if it is possible to be prescribed a generic version of the medicine that you need rather than a branded version. An example of this would be to be prescribed a generic antacid for digestive issues, rather than a recognisable brand name like Gaviscon.

Both forms of medication will work in the same way, but the generic version is likely to cost you less.

Note: When you go into the pharmacy or call about your private prescription, the pharmacist will confirm the exact cost of your prescription with you.

In England, all NHS prescriptions will cost at least £9.65, as this is the minimum prescription charge. This is the current cost as of 2023, with this being 30 pence more compared to 2020 – 2022. NHS prescriptions are free in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but you won’t be able to take an English prescription into another UK country to have it filled for free.

This table uses real data from the NHS Business Services Authority to demonstrate how NHS prescription charges have changed over time.

YearCost of prescription
2012/13£7.65
2013/14£7.85
2014/15£8.05
2015/16£8.20
2016/17£8.40
2017/18£8.60
2018/19£8.80
2019/20£9.00`
2020 – 2023£9.35
2023/24£9.65

It’s important to note that the prescription charge is per item and not per prescription. If your prescription has 3 items on it, you will have to pay £9.65 per item.

EXAMPLE NHS PRESCRIPTION COSTS

Number of items on prescription (NHS)Cost of prescription
1£9.65
2£19.30
3£28.95
4£38.60           
5£48.25
6£57.90

If you know that you will need to pay for a lot of medication from the NHS, this can be made cheaper by buying a Prescription Prepayment Certificate (PPC). This certificate would cover the cost of NHS prescriptions for a set amount of time and the available options are displayed in the table below.

Type of Prescription Prepayment Certificate (PPC)Cost of certificate
3-month certificate£31.25
12-month certificate£111.60
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) certificate
(covers an unlimited amount of specified HRT medicines for 12 months)
£19.30

Note: Certain medications that are prescribed by the NHS will always be free. This includes medicines like oral contraception, treatments for sexually transmitted infections or medication that is prescribed to hospital inpatients.

Private health insurance offers a solution to help UK residents to access necessary medication at a much faster rate than if they waited for an appointment with their own GP. A key service that is provided by many UK health insurance companies is 24/7 online GP support. These services allow you to speak to qualified medical professionals at a convenient time and are available via a smartphone app or online.

A private consultation can significantly speed up the process of getting a prescription in many cases. Even if the prescription itself isn’t filled more quickly, this process is at least a much faster way of discussing your medical concerns with a qualified healthcare professional.

You will usually have to pay for any private prescriptions that are issued yourself, but private health insurance covers the cost of the consultation in many cases. Certain insurers (e.g. Vitality) will pay toward the cost of private prescriptions, but there will be a set limit per year.

Bupa logo

Bupa

Trustpilot score: 4.2 out of 5.0 Stars
Defaqto rating: 5 Stars

Bupa’s Blua Health service is a popular benefit among Bupa members, offering comprehensive health and well-being support. Bupa employs fully qualified private GPs, nurse practitioners and pharmacists who are all able to prescribe various types of medications.

If you have any concerns about your health, you can book a free consultation via the Bupa Blua service. The Bupa clinician will then assess what treatment might be needed and can prescribe medication if they feel this is appropriate.

Bupa Blua health prescriptions can then be issued to allow you to access the medication needed to treat a sudden illness or short-term medical condition. You will receive a notification after your appointment to ask if you want to pick up your medication from a chosen pharmacy or have it delivered directly to your door.

Prescriptions sent to a pharmacy can be ready to pick up within 1 hour (same day delivery to the pharmacy) and home delivery will usually take between 24 – 48 hours.

Bupa Blua App Support Guide – CLICK HERE

Aviva logo

Aviva

Trustpilot score: 4.0 out of 5.0 Stars
Defaqto rating: 5 Stars

Aviva’s Digital GP service provides access to 24/7 GP video consultations (5 consultations per year). Following your consultation, a qualified GP can issue a private prescription which can be collected from a local pharmacy or delivered to you at home.

However, Aviva does note that the Aviva Digital App isn’t a core benefit of your cover, so available services can change over time.

You can also use the app to order repeat NHS prescriptions at no additional cost. There are some exemptions for NHS England, so you should contact Aviva for more information if you can’t access the service that you need.

Aviva Healthier Solutions Terms and Conditions – CLICK HERE

WPA logo

WPA

Trustpilot score: 4.6 out of 5.0 Stars
Defaqto rating: 5 Stars

WPA’s NHS Top Up Cash Plan works by allowing you to claim money back for routine healthcare. One of the core benefits is their GP Services benefit which can reimburse you for the cost of things like consultations, diagnostic tests, and prescription charges.

The maximum benefit amount paid per year will vary depending on the level of coverage that you have. The most that you could claim for under WPA GP Services is £150 per year (Level 3 cover).

Their remote GP services also allow standard health insurance customers to receive online GP consultations. These will take place via the WPA Health app and can result in the issuing of a digital prescription which is sent to your local pharmacy.

WPA Private Medical Insurance Policy Information Document – CLICK HERE

AXA Health logo

AXA Health

Trustpilot score: 4.3 out of 5.0 Stars
Defaqto rating: 5 Stars

AXA Health won’t cover the cost of private prescriptions, but you may be able to receive them via their online GP app. The ‘Doctor at Hand’ app allows you to book 20-minute online appointments with a private GP or Advanced Nurse Practitioner.

They are authorised to prescribe medication if they feel that this is needed to treat your health issue. You can also book in-person appointments with an AXA specialist as part of a standard AXA health insurance policy. They may then prescribe medications based on your condition and if they think a medication will be beneficial for you.

You will need an open referral from your own NHS GP before you can book an appointment with an AXA Health specialist.

Note: AXA Health don’t usually cover the cost of face-to-face private GP appointments, but most members will be able to access their online GP services.

Vitality Health logo

Vitality Health

Trustpilot score: 4.2 out of 5.0 Stars
Defaqto rating: 5 Stars

Vitality Health members can book a Vitality GP consultant referral through the Vitality member app. The app makes it quick and simple to speak to a healthcare professional about your health and well-being.

Vitality’s private GPs can issue private prescriptions where needed and they can also refer you for further specialist treatment/consultations. Vitality promises that their private prescriptions can be delivered to your chosen pharmacy in a few hours, making it quicker to get the medication that you need.

Vitality will pay out up to £100 per plan each year, toward the cost of private prescriptions and minor diagnostic tests. On top of this, Vitality members also have access to a range of Vitality Rewards including discounts from top high street brands like Apple and Samsung.

Vitality Private Medical insurance Information Document – CLICK HERE

The Exeter logo

The Exeter

Trustpilot score: 4.2 out of 5.0 Stars
Defaqto rating: 5 Stars

The Exeter recently updated its member app to offer better benefits for its health and life insurance customers. We published a full breakdown of this update in November 2023, which explains all the upgrades and how they benefit The Exeter members.

One key addition was the new prescription service, which allows The Exeter customers to order their repeat prescriptions for free via The Exeter HealthWise app. You can order both NHS and private prescriptions using this service.

HealthWise Member Benefits Summary – CLICK HERE

Freedom health insurance logo

Freedom Health Insurance

Trustpilot score: 3.8 out of 5.0 Stars
Defaqto rating: 4 Stars

Freedom Health Insurance customers can access their GP24 service 24/7 to speak to an experienced private GP. Video consultations are available 8 am – 10pm every day and telephone consultations are available 24/7 for 365 days of the year.

You can book a consultation over the phone (Telephone – 0345 222 3706) or via the Freedom Health Insurance app. The GP that you speak to can provide private prescriptions which can either be sent to a pharmacy of your choice or can be delivered to your door.

Freedom Health Insurance GP24 Service Summary – CLICK HERE

National Friendly logo

National Friendly

Trustpilot score: 4.6 out of 5.0 Stars
Defaqto ratings: 4 Stars (for Level 4)

National Friendly’s Friendly GP app offers a range of benefits to National Friendly health insurance customers. Their services include 24/7 access to GP telephone appointments, as well as video consultations via their eConsultation service.

The doctor that you speak to can decide if it would be beneficial for you to receive any prescription medication. If they decide to issue a prescription, this medication can be sent to a pharmacy of your choice or can be delivered to you.

Unlike other health insurance provider apps, the Friendly GP app clinicians can arrange for your prescription to be delivered to any UK address. This can be especially useful if you are working away or visiting family and friends and not at your usual home address.

Note: National Friendly’s Friendly GP app benefits are also available for over 50s life insurance and income protection insurance customers.

National Friendly My PMI Policy Summary – CLICK HERE

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It can sometimes be more convenient to get the prescription that you need privately, rather than waiting for an appointment with the NHS.

However, in some situations, it can be simpler and easier to get your prescription from the NHS rather than going private. For example, certain groups of people qualify for free prescriptions on the NHS which could save you a lot of money if you need to get medication frequently (repeat prescriptions).

People who are entitled to free prescriptions include children under age 16 (under age 18 if in full-time education), people who receive specific benefits, or people with certain medical conditions e.g. diabetes.

You can use this free NHS tool to check if you might be eligible for free prescriptions and help with other costs: NHS – Check what help you could get to pay for NHS costs

Note: Many people who qualify for free NHS prescriptions will also qualify for other forms of free care, including free dental check-ups and free NHS eye tests.

An NHS GP can issue you with a private prescription, though there are strict rules around this. Your GP will normally only be able to write you a private prescription if the medication that you need is not available yet on the NHS.

In some cases, if you have been seen privately for treatment and then you need NHS care, your GP may be able to convert your private prescription into an NHS prescription.

NHS GPs aren’t allowed to supply private prescriptions to save their patients money, even if it would be cheaper to prescribe privately than for the patient to pay the NHS prescription charge.

BMA – Prescribing in General Practice (GP)

You can get prescriptions for specific medications without needing to see a GP. The new NHS ‘Pharmacy First’ Scheme allows pharmacists to prescribe medication like antibiotics to treat less serious conditions and illnesses.

This includes treatment of conditions like earache, infected insect bites, shingles, and urinary tract infections with mild symptoms.

We explain more about the Pharmacy First scheme in our comprehensive guide ‘Can pharmacists prescribe antibiotics in the UK 2024’.

People who are aged 60 or older will qualify for free prescriptions in the UK. This can be particularly useful for people who have experienced worsening health as they have gotten older.

The government recently considered whether this should be changed to age 66 to line up with the state pension age. However, it was confirmed in June 2023 that the free prescription minimum age has been frozen at 60 years old.

You might need to show proof of age (e.g. a passport or driver’s licence) to the pharmacist to get your free prescription.

Age UK has a full guide which explains more about free prescriptions and other support for NHS costs for over 60s.

The standard process for getting a prescription filled will be the same, regardless of whether you have been given an NHS or private prescription.

You will need to either take the prescription to the pharmacy yourself or your doctor might send it directly to your chosen pharmacy for you.

The pharmacist will then be able to fill your prescription and dispense the medication that your doctor has recommended. If you don’t have a local pharmacy or have difficulty getting to one, you might be able to contact them to have your prescription delivered to your home.

In some cases, the pharmacy might not have the medication that you need in stock when they receive your prescription. If this happens, they will normally order it in and contact you when it arrives, so that you know that it is ready to be picked up.

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Getting your prescription online can be an attractive option for both convenience and privacy. There are a few ways to get a private prescription online with the most common option being to request a prescription via a pharmacy website. Certain medications can be ordered online in this manner, and you would simply need to fill in an online questionnaire about your health.

The pharmacy would then assess whether the medication would be suitable for you based on the answers that you have provided. They may decline to provide the medication if it seems likely that it would be unsuitable for you or cause further health issues (e.g. a blood clot).

Many high street pharmacies offer services like this including Superdrug, Well Pharmacy, Lloyds Pharmacy and Boots Chemists. Some of the medications that you can order via services like this include antibiotics (e.g. amoxicillin), period delay tablets (norethisterone) and emergency contraception (e.g. a ‘morning after pill’ such as EllaOne or Levonelle).

The NHS website notes that you should be extremely careful when buying medication online, as some websites will sell fake medication. You should always check that you are on the website of a registered pharmacy or if you are unsure you should contact your GP.

Any properly registered online pharmacy will be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council. If you are using an online doctor service, this service should be registered with both the Care Quality Commission and the General Medical Council.

Does Boots do private prescriptions?

YES – A Boots pharmacist may be able to provide a private prescription, but only for specific medications. If you can’t request the medication that you need via a Boots pharmacist, you will need to speak to an NHS or private GP or specialist to get your prescription.


Can I take a private prescription to Boots?

YES – If you have been issued with a private prescription, you can take it to any pharmacy including Boots pharmacies. You may be able to request that your prescription be sent there directly which can be more convenient.


Can I write a private prescription for myself?

NO – Any type of medical prescription must be written by a qualified medical professional as per UK regulations.

Guidance from the General Medical Council also clearly states that medical professionals should avoid prescribing medication for themselves or close family members where possible.


Can I ask my GP for a private prescription?

An NHS GP will only be able to provide a private prescription under very specific circumstances. You can try and request a private prescription, but it is possible that they won’t be able to issue this.

If you need advice about finding the right health insurance for you and your family or business, our team of friendly experts is here to help. It’s important to shop around and compare policies from different health insurance providers to find the best fit and price.

Our experts will help you to compare quotes and policies from top providers like AXA, Aviva, Bupa, Freedom, Vitality, National Friendly, and The Exeter. Each one offers different benefits and policy features, so you should consider carefully what it is that you need from your policy.

Plus, we’ll help you save money on your health insurance premiums by finding the best prices for the level of cover that you need. For more information and free advice, just give our team a call at 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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