Requests for an emergency supply of medication or an emergency prescription is not uncommon in a community pharmacy. Some of the common reason for patients to request an emergency supply of medication are:
- Patients being away from home and forgot to take their medication
- Patients being away from home and lost their medication
- Patients ran out of medication and unable to get their medication from their regular doctor
Patients who require medication urgently and cannot obtain a prescription immediately have few options to obtain necessary drugs. In this post I will talk about the following:
- getting an emergency prescription
- getting an emergency supply of medication from a pharmacy
- alternative options for an emergency supply of medication
How to get an emergency prescription?
An emergency prescription can be obtained from a community pharmacy in the UK the scheme called Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS). This service was created to reduce the burden on urgent and emergency care services such as walk in and out of hour centres. CPCS service was launched in September 2019, replacing NUMSAS service (pilot scheme) and at the same time extended to all community pharmacies in the UK.
Emergency prescription: requirements
Patients who require urgent medication, previously prescribed by a GP, may be supplied with required medication after a referral from NHS 111 service is made to a pharmacy. Patients who wish to get an emergency prescription must call NHS 111 service and explain the situation.
As a part of this service, a pharmacy team need to contact the patient once a referral is made by NHS 111. When possible, I recommend contacting a pharmacy over the phone, instead of waiting for the phone call, after contacting NHS 111. The immediate need for medication is always assessed by a pharmacist after initial contact is made.
An emergency prescription can be produced only after calling NHS 111 service and after a consultation with a pharmacist at their professional discretion. Patients cannot go directly to a pharmacy and request an emergency prescription under this scheme.
Can I get an emergency prescription for a controlled drug?
Patients cannot request an emergency supply for controlled drugs schedule 2 or 3 such as morphine drugs, gabapentin and pregabalin or tramadol. It is possible to receive an emergency supply for a control drugs schedule 4 (for example diazepam / zopiclone) and schedule 5 controlled drugs, for example, codeine-based drugs.
Please note, NHS 111 operator may not know if medication is a controlled drug, and even if a referral is made for an emergency prescription, a controlled drug schedule 2 or 3 would not be supplied to a patient.
In practice, other commonly seen requests for an emergency prescription under this scheme is request for antibiotics. Again patient will not be able to get an emergency supply for treatment of acute conditions with antibiotics under this scheme.
An emergency prescription: access to medication history
During the assessment by a pharmacist, patients are usually asked to give a consent to access their Summary Care Records (SCR), an NHS service, which shows the history of their regular medications prescribed by GP.
How many days of medication supply can I get on an emergency prescription?
Patients are usually supplied with a small quantity of medication to cover a few days until a new prescription can be obtained from their regular GP. Legally, however, a supply can be made to cover for up to 30 days of treatment for non-CD drugs and 5 days for CD drugs (schedule 4 and 5).
Emergency prescription: do I have to pay?
One of the advantages of getting an emergency prescription with use of CPCS is that normal prescription exemptions apply when supply is made. Patients sign and select their exemption status or pay NHS prescription fee when medication is collected.
An emergency supply of medication
Alternatively, in an emergency, the pharmacist is legally allowed to make a supply of prescription-only medication without a prescription. Providing certain requirements are met, patients can request a supply of medication on an emergency basis. Patients are usually charged for an emergency supply of medication, regardless of their exemption status or age. Similarly to private prescription charges, patients pay for an emergency supply of medication as there is no prescription to cover the cost of medication given out.
There are certain legal requirements that must be met in order for patients to get an emergency supply of medication from the pharmacy. These are (BNF, N.D.):
- A pharmacist must interview a patient requesting a supply of prescription-only medication
- The patient is in immediate need of medication and it is unfeasible for the patient to obtain a prescription for this medication
- The dose of the medication is known
- The patient has previously been treated with requested medication by UK or EU doctor
- Requested cannot be made for a controlled drug in Schedule 1,2, or 3 (see exception below).
The only exception is the supply of a controlled drug on an emergency basis is the supply of phenobarbital/phenobarbital sodium for patients who use this medication for the treatment of epilepsy.
In an emergency supply situation, a pharmacist should consider the individual circumstances of the request and use their professional judgement to determine whether a supply is made.
Pharmacist should consider the patient’s best interests, however, pharmacists should not be pressured into making an emergency supply by anyone (for example patient demands supply).
How many days of medication supply can I get on an emergency basis?
When a request is made for an emergency supply of medication in the pharmacy, patients can supply of drug(s) to cover up to 30 days of treatment and for CD drugs (schedule 4 and 5) up to 5 days of the treatment.
An emergency supply of medication: evidence of treatment
Do you need to bring evidence of treatment with medication for which emergency supply is requested?
A pharmacist must be satisfied that a patient requesting a supply of medication has been previously treated with this medication. Bringing an empty box, or repeat slip to the pharmacy at the time of the request may help a pharmacist to decide if emergency supply is appropriate.
Additionally and/ or if no evidence is present pharmacist may request to access patient’s Summary Care Records (SCR). SCR is an NHS electronic record of patient information including drug history, created from GP medical record.
Do I have to pay for the emergency supply in the pharmacy?
Regardless of your age or exemption status, you will most likely be asked to pay for this service, unless other arrangements can be made, for example, pharmacy is likely to receive a prescription to cover medication supplied. Patients need to cover the cost of medication plus any emergency supply charges that the pharmacy may have in place.
The cost of common drugs may be minimal, and the total cost will also depend on a number of treatment days given. Most pharmacies have a minimum charge for supply of medicines when an emergency supply is given out. Tesco Pharmacy has one of the lowest minimum charges for private prescriptions and supply of drugs in the emergency.
Some items, such as inhalers (excluding Salbutamol/Ventolin inhaler), for example, Fostair inhaler or insulins can be expensive, therefore the use of CPCS service (the first part of this post) would be more suitable as patients can use their exemption when supply is made.
An emergency supply of medication: alternative options
Electronic prescription service (EPS)
Patients who require a supply of medication urgently (for example same day) have an option of contacting their regular GP surgery. In the UK prescriptions are transferred with the use of Electronic Prescription Service (EPS). EPS allows the transfer of prescriptions from a GP surgery to almost any pharmacy in the UK.
Patients who need an urgent supply of medication can contact their regular GP surgery (during opening hours) and ask to issue EPS prescription, which can be sent to any pharmacy.
As last resort patients who require an emergency prescription can use a walk-in centre to obtain a prescription. This option may be suitable for patients who require an emergency supply of controlled drugs. Visit NHS website to find a walk-in centre close to your location.
How can I find a late-night pharmacy?
Visit NHS search to find a late-night pharmacy.
Emergency prescription: FAQ
Can I ring 111 for an emergency prescription?
Patients can call 111 to get an emergency prescription. In the UK, an emergency prescription can be issued by a community pharmacy once a referral is made by NHS 111.
What to do if run out of medication?
Patients who ran out of their medication can obtain en emergency prescription from a pharmacy, once a referral is made by NHS 111. Alternatively, patients can request an emergency supply of medication from any pharmacy.
What is an emergency supply of medication?
An emergency supply of medication is supply of medication without a prescription. Pharmacists in the UK can supply medication on an emergency basis providing certain legal requirements are met.
How do I get emergency insulin?
Patients who ran out of their medication and cannot obtain a prescription from their regular doctor can call NHS 111 service to get an emergency referral to a community pharmacy. Alternatively, a request for an emergency supply of medication can be made in any community pharmacy.
BNF (ND). Emergency supply of prescription only medication. Available at: https://bnf.nice.org.uk/guidance/emergency-supply-of-medicines.html Accessed on 20/05/2019
PSNC (2019). PSNC Briefing 027/19: Five-Year CPCF Deal – Frequently Asked Questions. Available at: