Cross-Border Prescriptions and Pharmacies

Background

During the summer of 2013, several newspaper articles appeared in Irish newspapers, pointing out the savings that can be made by taking your Irish prescription across the border to a northern pharmacy to get it filled.

Summary

  • You can legally take your prescription to a northern pharmacy across the border and get it filled there
  • You will have to pay

– a handling charge and

– the full price of each medicine or product

  • Ask your doctor to specify the active ingredient or generic name and NOT the brand name, or else state “or the generic equivalent” on the prescription for each item e.g. fluoxetine instead of Prozac or salbutamol instead of Ventolin
  • Some items cannot be dispensed across the border, usually controlled drugs, such as morphine

The legal aspect

Directive 2011/24/EU on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare [PDF] clarifies the rules on access to healthcare in another EU country, including reimbursement.

EU countries have until 25 October 2013 to pass their own laws implementing the Directive.

On 24 April of 2011 the new Directive on the Application of Patients’ rights in Cross-Border Healthcare (Directive 2011/24/EU of the European parliament and of the Council) came into force. Within 30 months this Directive should be implemented in national legislation of individual Member States.

In this Directive the European Commission is called upon to adopt measures to facilitate the recognition of prescriptions issued in another Member State. These cross border prescriptions relate to medicinal products and medical devices prescribed in one Member State and dispensed in another.

Citizens in the European Union (EU) have the right to carry along or to receive a reasonable amount of medicines and medical devices in foreign Member States, obtained lawfully for personal use.

Source: See the EUROPA – Press release – Europe for patients: Common rules on medical prescriptions when travelling to another EU country

From the Irish Parliament:

In addition, doctors are advised to avoid brand names e.g. neurofen and use the generic name e.g. ibuprofen instead.

The UK NHS Confederation, in their comprehensive article Recognising medical prescriptions across borders states:

“The implementing Directive states that medicinal products should be indicated using their common name in order to facilitate the correct identification of products which are marketed under different brand names across the EU, and of products that arenot marketed in all EU member states. The common name shall be either the International Non-proprietary name recommended by the WHO or, if such a name does not exist, the usual common name. Medical devices do not have such common names and therefore the prescriptions should include direct contact details of the prescriber which enable the dispensing professional to enquire about the device.”

What this means in practice

If you have a prescription from your doctor in the south of Ireland, you can travel north of the border and exchange it for the specified medication in a pharmacy. You will have to pay for the medicine(s) and also a handling charge. In reality, this generally works out cheaper than going to your local pharmacy in the south.

Pharmacies in the north often dispense non-branded versions of medicines. You may be familiar with the brand name but not the active ingredient or the generic name. For example, a popular brand of statin is Lipitor, but it is likely that a pharmacist in the north would give you a box of atorvastatin, which is exactly the same medication, but in different packaging, and quite probably a lot cheaper than the branded version. Check with your doctor when he/she is writing out the prescription – they can specify the branded name but add “or generic equivalent” which allows the pharmacist in the north to provide the non-branded version.

Check that all the medication/drugs you need are available in the north. Some controlled drugs, such as morphine cannot be dispensed with a cross-border prescription. The websites of some northern pharmacies are given below – telephone the branch in the town or city you plan to visit. Most will be happy to give you advice

Health and Social Care NIservice finder (search for Chemist)

Pharmacy chains

Late opening chemists – Newry city centre