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Background: Increasing numbers of medicines are being made available over the counter in the UK, by purchase in a pharmacy or from other less well-regulated outlets. When this is allowed by the Licensing Authority, it is often subject to certain restrictions. However, some drugs that could usefully be converted from prescription-only medicines (PoM status) to over-the-counter sales in a pharmacy (P status) are not suitable for full over-the-counter status, even with restrictions; and in some cases restrictions vitiate the usefulness of the medicine. Areas of agreement: Drugs that can acceptably be switched from PoM status to P status include those that are used in the treatment of minor ailments or injuries, for health promotion or in palliative care. Areas of controversy: However, not all drugs that are being switched fall into these categories. Ready availability of antimicrobial drugs over the counter, one of which (azithromycin) has recently been switched, could encourage the emergence of resistant organisms. Drugs that are used for long-term treatment and lifestyle drugs are also controversial, particularly if their adverse effects are of potential concern. On the other hand, the availability of many drugs via the internet removes the ability of regulators to control the supply of such drugs. A possible solution: A new category of purchase, Pharmacist Consultation and Supply, with built-in safeguards, could improve the availability of some medicines under more careful control than is currently available for over-the-counter medicines.

Original publication




Journal article


British Medical Bulletin

Publication Date





63 - 69