Medicines information


Medicines are usually prescribed by a doctor. However, other healthcare professionals can also prescribe medicines including:

  • nurses
  • pharmacists
  • dentists
  • physiotherapists

I have an appointment with a healthcare professional to discuss a problem. How will they decide if a medicine is needed for me?

The healthcare professional will listen to what you say about your problem, and may examine you or do some tests, before deciding what treatment, if any, is needed. In some cases, treatment with a medicine may not be needed and they may:

  • reassure you that there is nothing to worry about
  • advise you on lifestyle choices (e.g. healthy diet, less alcohol and more exercise)
  • suggest other types of treatment (e.g. physiotherapy)
  • advise you to keep a check on your symptoms and make another appointment if they don't get better

If I need a medicine, how does the healthcare professional decide which medicine to prescribe?

If a medicine is needed, they'll speak to you about your options. You'll have your own views about medicines and how taking them will fit in with your daily life. Whilst you may be unsure about the risks and benefits of taking a medicine, the healthcare professional will listen to what's important for you.

They'll firstly consider the type of medicine that's needed (e.g. medicine for high blood pressure or pain relief). Sometimes, more than one medicine can treat a medical condition. The healthcare professional will choose the most appropriate medicine from the different groups of medicines available to treat your medical condition. They'll also decide on the best dose of the medicine for you. To do this, the healthcare professional will consider:

  • your opinions and preferences
  • any findings from your clinical examination
  • your age and family history
  • other medical conditions that you already have (including how well your kidneys and liver are working)
  • whether you're pregnant or breastfeeding
  • any other medicines you're taking (including herbal medicines and medicines you buy yourself) and how these might react with a new medicine
  • the likely benefits of a medicine
  • whether it's safe for you to take the medicine (including the possible side effects and risks
  • any treatment guidelines for your medical condition

They'll usually prescribe a medicine by its generic (chemical) name instead of by its brand name (for example ibuprofen rather than Nurofen®).

The healthcare professional will also usually choose a medicine that is included in your health board’s local formulary.

What is a formulary?

A formulary is a list of medicines which are available for routine use in a health board. It offers a choice of medicines for healthcare professionals to prescribe for common medical conditions.

The list of medicines is usually accompanied by other information (e.g. treatment guidelines for medical conditions) to help healthcare professionals make decisions when treating an individual patient.

Clinical experts in each health board consider whether to add new medicines to their formulary. They use advice published by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) . When SMC considers a new medicine for the NHS in Scotland, it looks at:

  • how well the medicine works
  • which patients might benefit from it
  • whether it's as good or better than medicines the NHS already uses to treat the medical condition
  • whether it's good value for money

Sometimes established medicines are a better choice than new medicines. If clinical experts in your health board decide not to make a medicine available for use, other medicines are usually available on the formulary to treat the specific medical condition.

Health boards publish their formulary on their website.

Can I be prescribed a medicine that’s not on my health board’s formulary?

If a medicine is not included on your health board’s formulary and there's no suitable alternatives on it, a healthcare professional can request to prescribe another medicine if they think you'll benefit from using it.

All health boards have procedures in place to consider requests when a healthcare professional feels another medicine would be right for a particular patient.

I've been given a medicine and I’m not sure how to take it. How can I find out how to take the medicine properly?

If you've questions about your medicine you can ask a healthcare professional at any time. They'll advise you how to use the medicine safely by explaining:

  • what the medicine is called
  • what it's used for
  • how you should take it
  • possible side effects
  • whether you can stop any of the other medicines you're taking

You should also get a leaflet with your medicine. The leaflet will give you more information about the medicine. You can ask a healthcare professional to explain anything about your medicine you're unsure about.

A credit card sized Not Sure? Just Ask! card contains some useful questions for you to ask about your medicine. It's available from the Scottish Patient Safety Programme website .

I don’t think my medicine is working. What should I do?

If you don't think your medicine is working properly, you should speak to a healthcare professional.

They'll talk to you about your medicine and will check that it's working for you. They may also suggest some changes to your medicine or how you take it. You should follow the instructions you've been given on how to take your medicine so you get the most benefit from it.

Some medicines don't work immediately. For example, it may take a few days before you start to feel better if you've been given an antibiotic or it may be a few weeks before you feel better with some medicines used to treat depression.

I've heard patients can report side effects to medicines. Where can I get more information on how to do this?

You can help improve the safety of medicines by reporting symptoms you experience to the Yellow Card Scheme.

The Yellow Card Scheme is a special system for reporting suspected side effects to medicines. You, or the healthcare professional treating you, can report a side effect. This enables problems to be spotted more easily and prevented in the future.

The report will be sent to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), who monitor the safety of all medicines.

You can also use the Yellow Card Scheme yourself, or on behalf of a person in your care, by:

  • making a report on the Yellow Card Website
  • downloading the free Yellow Card Mobile App from the Yellow Card Scotland website
  • calling 0808 100 3352 to report an adverse effect over the phone
  • asking your pharmacist for a Yellow Card form which you can send by FREEPOST

I have medicines I no longer need. What should I do with them?

You can take medicines you no longer need to a pharmacy. They will destroy them safely for you.

You should not flush medicines down the toilet or put them in a household bin. All medicines should be kept out of the reach of children.

Last updated: 15 June 2016