If you have an illness that requires medication, your doctor will write a prescription for tablets or other medicines that can be collected at your local pharmacist. When you take the prescription to the pharmacy, they will typically give you a ticket with a number and ask you to wait while they prepare your medicine. If a pharmacy is very busy, you may wait for around ten minutes. If you are lucky, they may be able to deal with your request much faster. When they call your number, or name, you can collect your medication from the counter. Normally, your medication will be inside a paper bag, so that other customers cannot see what you have been prescribed: this is to protect your privacy.

Most medication will come with a printed label, stating your name, and how you are to use the medicine. This is to remind you that prescribed medicines should only be taken by the person for whom they were prescribed. Even if you have similar symptoms to a friend of yours, you should not take their medicine! There may be small but important differences in your medical history that mean that you cannot take the tablets: always consult a doctor.

The label should tell you how to take the medicine, for example, a medicated cream might advise you to 'apply twice daily to the affected area, avoid contact with sensitive or broken skin'. A bottle of tablets may advise you to 'take two tablets, three times a day, and complete the course'; 'complete the course' indicates that you should continue to take the tablets until they are all gone. Your doctor should also tell you how you are to use the medicine prescribed, but it is a good idea to check with the pharmacist that you have understood these instructions. Medicine taken incorrectly may be ineffective or even harmful.

Depending on the medication you need, you may be able to collect repeat prescriptions from your surgery without having to make another appointment to see your doctor. This is particularly practical if you need a new set of tablets every month to treat an ongoing medical condition. If you have a disability and are housebound, prescriptions can be filled and then delivered to your home.

In England, Northern Ireland and Scotland patients are required to pay for their prescriptions. In Wales, prescriptions are free.

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