Over the Counter Medication

Changes to self-care or are self-limiting medicines or treatments 

NHS England (NHSE) published new prescribing guidance on 29 March this year covering 35 minor, short-term health conditions that are either ‘self-care’ and ‘self-limiting’ suitable for.

In line with recent guidelines published by NHS England in April 2018, GPs have been asked to stop or greatly reduce prescribing these medicines and treatments that can be bought over the counter.

NHS Patient Information Leaflet

These changes will benefit patients by freeing up valuable GP time and promoting self-care through community pharmacy.


Which self-limiting or short term conditions are included in this change?

The NHS has defined these self-care’ and ‘self-limiting’ medicines and treatments into three main groups. Items of limited clinical effectiveness; Self-limiting illnesses; Minor illnesses suitable for self-care. The complete list of can be found on the next page.


What are self-limiting or short term conditions

  • A self-limiting condition does not require any medical advice or treatment as it will clear up on its own, such as sore throats, coughs, colds and viruses.
  • A minor illness that is suitable for self-care can be treated with items that can be purchased over the counter from a pharmacy. These conditions include, for example, indigestion, mouth ulcers and warts and verrucae. 

Why does the NHS want to reduce prescribing of these medicines?

The NHS has to make difficult choices about what it spends money on and how much value it is getting for that money. NHS England recently carried out a public consultation on reducing prescribing of over-the-counter medicines for minor, short-term health concerns.

In the year prior to June 2017, the NHS spent approximately £569 million on prescriptions for medicines which can be purchased over the counter from a pharmacy and other outlets such as supermarkets. NHS England published guidance to free up to almost £100 million for front line care each year by curbing prescriptions for ‘over the counter’ medicines such as those for constipation and athletes foot.


What about patients that need to take a medicine for one of the conditions on the list?

The guidance says that there are rare circumstances where individual patients will still be prescribed a medicine for a self-care condition depending on the individual patient t. The circumstances vary for each condition and GPs will need to talk to individual patients.


List of minor illness or items for which prescribing is restricted

Minor illnesses suitable for self-care
  • Dandruff
  • Diarrhoea (Adults)
  • Dry Eyes/Sore (tired) Eyes
  • Earwax
  • Excessive sweating (Hyperhidrosis)
  • Head lice
  • Indigestion and Heartburn
  • Infrequent constipation
  • Infrequent Migraine
  • Insect bites and stings
  • Mild Acne
  • Mild Dry Skin
  • Mild Irritant Dermatitis
  • Mild to Moderate Hay fever/Seasonal Rhinitis
  • Minor burns and scalds
  • Minor conditions associated with pain, discomfort and/fever. (e.g. aches and sprains, headache, period pain, back pain)
  • Mouth ulcers  
  • Nappy Rash
  • Oral Thrush    
  • Prevention of dental caries
  • Ringworm/Athletes foot
  • Sunburn
  • Sunburn Protection
  • Teething/Mild toothache
  • Threadworms
  • Travel Sickness
  • Warts and Verrucae 
Items of limited clinical effectiveness
  • Probiotics
  • Vitamins and minerals
 Self-limiting illnesses
  • Acute Sore Throat
  • Conjunctivitis  
  • Coughs and colds and nasal congestion
  • Cradle Cap (Seborrhoeic dermatitis – infants)
  • Haemorrhoids
  • Infant Colic
  • Infrequent Cold Sores of the lip
  • Mild Cystitis

Where can I find more information and support?

You can speak to your local pharmacist, GP or the person

To find out more about the changes made by the NHS please  click here

Leaflet on 'Changes to Medicines or Treatments prescribed on the NHS' 

If you have any questions about the items which are no longer going to be prescribed then please email them to: england.medicines@nhs.net


Non - Prescribed Medicine