You might have heard of pharmacy medicines, but what are they & how do they differ from prescription medicines? We talk you through all you need to know

What is a pharmacy medicine?

A pharmacy medicine, sometimes known as a pharmacy only medicine or a p-med, is a medicine that can only be sold in a registered pharmacy, by a pharmacist or someone acting under the supervision of a pharmacist. Pharmacy medicines don’t require a prescription but are displayed in the pharmacy area behind a counter and have to be sold by a member of the pharmacy staff following a suitability check.

Some medicines that can be available as pharmacy medicines include:

• Hay fever relief

• Travel sickness tablets

• Max strength flu medicines

• Some types of pain relief

• Thrush treatment

Please note, these medicines can also be available as general sales list (GSL) medicines as well as pharmacy medicines. The difference between pharmacy medicines and GSLs is explained below.

In this video, Boots’ Marc Donovan explains what pharmacy medicines are.

What’s the difference between prescription only medicines (POM), pharmacy medicines (P) & general sales list medicines (GSL)?

Prescription-only medicines (POM)
are only available against a valid prescription, prescribed by an authorised healthcare professional like a GP. The prescription needs to be taken to a pharmacy where the medicine is prepared under the supervision of a pharmacist. You can't buy a prescription-only medicine, although some people will pay a prescription charge, depending on their circumstances.

A rectangular box enclosing the letters POM appears on the packs of prescription-only medicines.

Prescription-only medicines are usually used for conditions that are diagnosed and managed by health professionals. Examples of prescription-only medicines include antibiotics and medicines for treating high blood pressure.

Pharmacy medicines (P)
can be purchased without a prescription from a registered pharmacy sold either under the supervision of a pharmacist or by the pharmacist themselves.  Pharmacy medicines are kept behind the pharmacy counter or in clear locked boxes at pharmacy till points and are marked with a ‘P’ on their packaging, or with a small green cross on the product picture if purchasing online.

They’re usually used for short term treatment of medical conditions that are easy to identify and unlikely to persist. They need to be used more carefully than general sales list medicines (GSL), which are explained below, and you might need special advice on treatment.

Pharmacy staff might talk to you about how you’re going to use the medicines, and ask questions to check the medicine is appropriate for you, and will check if you need to see another healthcare professional like a doctor.

The pack usually includes advice to see another healthcare professional if the condition doesn’t improve or gets worse, or if you have a long term condition, if a doctor hasn’t been consulted for some time.

General sales list medicines (GSL)
can be purchased off-the-shelf in registered pharmacies as self selection and are also available in supermarkets and some other retail outlets. They’re usually taken for common, easy to recognise ailments that usually last a couple of days, and tend to be in smaller pack sizes than pharmacy medicines. You can sometimes purchase medicines for the management of long term conditions such as hayfever.

What makes a medicine a pharmacy medicine instead of a GSL?

In the UK, drugs are classified by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), and they determine if a medicine is to be sold as a pharmacy medicine or a GSL.

There are a number of reasons a medicine could be classified as a pharmacy medicine instead of a GSL. These include:

• When the active ingredient is at a higher strength, for instance certains packs of ibuprofen 200mg are GSL medicines, whereas ibuprofen 400mg are pharmacy medicines

• The quantity in the pack – some medicines can be bought as GSLs in a smaller pack size, but in larger pack sizes must be purchased from a pharmacy as a pharmacy medicine. This enables a pharmacist to review the customer’s needs to check the quantity is appropriate

• What the side effects are – GSL medicines cause few troublesome side effects in normal use, whereas pharmacy medicines may have the potential for more side effects that need to be discussed  before the medicine is taken

How do I know whether I need a pharmacy medicine or not?

If you’re experiencing symptoms, but you’re not sure what you need then you should seek advice from pharmacy staff.

They’ll ask you some questions to see what’s appropriate for you and will be able to advise if you need to see another healthcare professional, like a GP, as well. If they do recommend a pharmacy medicine, they’ll be able to talk to you about how to take it and how long to take it for.

What can you expect when you buy a pharmacy medicine?

When you buy a pharmacy medicine, the pharmacist or a member of the pharmacy team will ask you a few questions to check the medicine is suitable for you before allowing you to purchase it.

The questions you’re asked may be different, depending on the symptoms you’re addressing or the medication you’ve asked for.

Questions you might be asked include:

• Who is the medicine for?

• How old is the person who the medicine is for?

• What symptoms do you (or the person the medicine is for) have?

• What other medication you (or the person the medicine is for) are taking?

• What medical conditions do you (or the person the medicine is for) have?

Can pharmacy medicines be bought online?

Yes, you can buy GSLs and pharmacy medicines online. If you select a pharmacy medicine for purchase, you’ll be asked some confidential questions via an online questionnaire. Once you’ve completed the questions, they will be processed by pharmacy staff to ensure the medicine is suitable for you.

If they have any additional questions, they may contact you by phone before your order is processed. If you’re purchasing from a Boots pharmacy, you can choose whether to collect your order in store or have it delivered to an address of your choice.

Can I buy pharmacy medicines for someone else?

Yes, you can buy pharmacy medicines for someone else. Whether you're buying in store or online, you'll be asked who the medicine is for. Make sure when you answer the questions that you give the correct information about the person you're buying the medicine for, for instance their age.

How can Boots help me with my prescription medicines?

It’s easy to manage your prescriptions with Boots. Visit our Prescriptions page to find out more about ordering repeat prescriptions, the prescription delivery service and lots more. 

Your local pharmacy team can also provide support and information, without the need for an appointment (subject to pharmacist availability). Find out more about pharmacist advice or find your local store using our store locator.

Boots can also provide further support with your medication, should you need it. Visit our Support with medication page for more information.