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Classifications of Medicines

Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed by Mohommed Essop-AdamReviewed on 30.10.2023 | 3 minutes read
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In the UK, there are three legal classifications of medicines. These are GSL (general sales list) medicines, P (pharmacy) medicines, and POMs (prescription-only medicines). They are mainly classified based on the level of involvement needed from healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat the condition the medication is designed for. This will depend on several factors, including risk of the medication causing harm, risk of condition being harmful, level of expertise required as well as many others.

General Sales List (GSL) Medicines 

GSL medicines are available for self-selection in shops and do not require the involvement of a healthcare professional in the sale of the medicine. They can be bought from various shops such as pharmacies, supermarkets, petrol stations and convenience stores.

GSL medicines are used for conditions easily identified by patients. They typically come in small pack sizes with the guidance to seek medical advice if the condition does not improve, or due to certain requirements. Generally, these medicines cause few side effects.

Examples of GSL medicines include small packs of antihistamines and painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen, cough medicines like Simple Linctus, most sore throat lozenges like Strepsils and Soothers, and other products for minor ailments including Olbas oil and Sudocrem.

Pharmacy (P) Medicines

P medicines can only be bought from a pharmacy. They are not available for self-selection but are kept behind the counter instead. To obtain a P medicine, you must discuss it with a trained pharmacy staff member to ensure it is suitable. Examples of P medicines include larger packs of antihistamines and painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen, emergency contraceptives, some cold and flu medicines like Night Nurse, and some sleeping tablets like diphenhydramine. P medicines can only be bought from a pharmacy, they are not available for self-selection but are kept behind the counter instead. To obtain a P medicine, you must have a discussion with a pharmacist or another member of pharmacy staff to ensure the medication is suitable for use.

You may have heard of the term 'over-the-counter medicines'. This term conveniently describes any medication available without a prescription and includes all GSL and P medicines.

Prescription-Only Medicines (POM)

As the name suggests, you need a valid prescription to obtain a prescription-only medicine. Medications are dispensed at pharmacies and can be written by various healthcare professionals, including doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, optometrists, and physiotherapists. Examples of POMs include antibiotics, anticoagulants, medicines for high blood pressure, cholesterol-lowering medication, and antidiabetic medicines.

Controlled Drugs (CDs)

Controlled drugs are a sub-classification of medicines that have further restrictions and cautions attached to them. There are five schedules of controlled drugs with differing regulatory requirements. Schedule 1 controlled drugs are rarely used medically.

Schedule 2 and 3 controlled drugs require extra details to be added to their prescriptions and prescriptions for schedule 2, 3, and 4 controlled drugs are only valid for 28 days. Most schedule 2 and certain schedule 3 controlled drugs must be kept in a secure cabinet in the pharmacy. If you are collecting a schedule 2 or 3 controlled drug you will be required to sign the back of the prescription and for schedule 2 controlled drugs you will also need to provide proof of identification. Schedule 5 controlled drugs typically contain a small amount of schedule 3 or 4 medication in the medicine.

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Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed by Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed on 30.10.2023
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