Generic prescription medicines in UK

On our trip to Bristol for Easter I was gobsmacked to learn that British pharmacists are not permitted to substitute a generic version for the medicine written on a prescription.

My oncologist had prescribed a brand name medicine the morning of our flight and I could not fill it at three pharmacies as none had it in stock. After arriving I called a number of pharmacies and found one in Bath that had the generic equivalent but would only dispense it against a prescription authorising the generic, not the brand name drug alone.

I managed to get one e-mailed and everything was fine.

I’m posting this only because I don’t think I’m the only person who are suprised by this. Particularly as the use of generics are being pushed so hard here.


That’s interesting. I wonder if much money could be saved if the rule was changed to allow generics by default where paid for by the public health system?

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Maybe because most primary care prescriptions in the UK are for generic medicine to start with so pharmacists aren’t allowed to substitute.


Ah! That’s likely why. Thank you.

UK pharmacy accepted a Swiss prescription ok? Did they charge more than the standard prescription charge?

I paid for it. £12. Not sure if part of that was a dispensing fee.

I’m guessing that in CH it would be f50.

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The normal NHS fee is £9.65 per item - the drugs obviously cost the NHS more than that in many cases.

Just a heads-up, American pharmacies are picky about foreign prescriptions, even Canadian ones. About three years ago, my hubby tried to fill a Norwegian script and a Swedish script in Kansas City (MO), but both were rejected. Hit up another spot, same story. He even tried another pharmacy in the other Kansas City, no dice. Eventually, my mom, a physician in Chicagoland area, had to write him a new prescription to ensure he could obtain his medication.

Interestingly, there is a pharmacy in Tysons Corner that was very cool with European prescriptions. This is likely due to the pharmacist being Swiss of Iranian descent and having completed pharmacological studies in Switzerland.

In my personal experience, Swiss pharmas have always accepted foreign prescriptions, including those from the US, Russia and Iran.

Are you sure it’s not just for that medicine? I got the same answer in Switzerland saying that for some very specific medicine, there could be a difference and hence the prescription has to be for generic.

My understanding that a generic has to be identical. I believe there is a different term for something similar.

In the UK a prescription must always be for a generic version if it’s an acceptable substitute. The assumption is that any specifically named drug is not substitutable by a generic. It’s not up to the pharmacist, in such cases, to judge whether a generic version is acceptable.

There’s “bio-equivalent” which is the standard term, especially for some of the newer biological drugs, and testing for it is done even when moving to a new factory, or from prototype to production.

But generic versions of some meds may have different coatings, release timings, all sorts of things, so it’s not just a case of ‘the same compound’, even if it is bio-equivalent.

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It’s not identical. The active ingredient is, but everything around it not.

“A prescription drug that has the same active-ingredient formula as a brand-name drug.”

Some people allegedly react to the non active ingredients which are different.

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Swiss apotheke’s accept foreign prescriptions and surprisingly, insurance companies accept some treatments/health assessments from abroad too - I have that in good knowledge from a friend. (especially because they’re much cheaper than here so it does make sense) All in all, I would say the Swiss are MUCH more flexible than other folks, much more!!!
Edit: with a caveat though, we might talk only about EU countries, don’t know if from everywhere.(in this regard you do feel like belonging to a select club…sometimes ;))

In the UK, some supermarkets have pharmacies which are open evenings and weekends so you can pick up your prescription when you do the shopping with the added bonus that non-prescription medicines are in the supermarket aisles so you don’t have to spend ten minutes explaining to a pharmacist why you want some ibuprofen for a fever whilst they try and convince you to buy some homeopathic nonsense.

No pharmacist tried to convince me to buy homeopathic nonsense when I wanted to buy ibuprofen or paracetamol; However, they kindly offered the non-brand products so I started to wonder if I look…poor! :rofl:. It is a minor discomfort though. They try to explain you how to use it and it makes me giggle every single time. (maybe they think we have never used…medicines? lol)
I agree the hours of pharmacies and availability of over the counter medicines is a pita though.

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Me neither but the do always offer the non brand product to everyone which I think is a good thing.
I don’t think the homeopathic nonsense is quite as prevalent in the french speaking part thankfully.

Yes, I do appreciate the generic products for the paracetamol based medicines; it is not exactly the same for ibuprofen. (I take less of those to none - lately).
About the homeopathic nonsense…well, I do have a herbal tea for every possible ailment starting from stomach ache to colds…so who am I to criticise this stuff?? :laughing:

There are some merits to herbal remedies, the Sinupret tablets work quite well for cleaning sinuses for example.
Homeopathy is s different thing entirely and has no merits whatsoever in my opinion

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I agree. Didn’t want to be too hard on the Swiss…

What have you found to be different about generic ibuprofen?

I’ve used many different ‘brands’ over the years, some of which, sourced mail order within the EU, is uncoated so more difficult to swallow ( mostly have always tried to get the Walgreen’s bottles of 1000 on trips to the US, or asking colleagues to bring some back) but in terms of efficacy are exactly the same.