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Prescribing Unlicensed Medicines

67. The term unlicensed medicine is used to describe medicines that are used outside the terms of their UK licence or which have no licence for use in the UK.* Unlicensed medicines are commonly used in some areas of medicine such as in paediatrics, psychiatry and palliative care. They are also used, less frequently, in other areas of medicine.

68. You should usually prescribe licensed medicines in accordance with the terms of their licence. However, you may prescribe unlicensed medicines where, on the basis of an assessment of the individual patient, you conclude, for medical reasons, that it is necessary to do so to meet the specific needs of the patient.

69. Prescribing unlicensed medicines may be necessary where:

a. There is no suitably licensed medicine that will meet the patients need, for example, where:
i there is no licensed medicine applicable to the particular patient. For example, if the patient is a child and a medicine licensed only for adult patients would meet the needs of the child; or
ii a medicine licensed to treat a condition or symptom in children would nonetheless not meet the specific assessed needs of the particular child patient, but a medicine licensed for the same condition or symptom in adults would do so; or
iii the dosage specified for a licensed medicine would not meet the patients need; or
iv the patient needs a medicine in a formulation that is not specified in an applicable licence.

b. Or where a suitably licensed medicine that would meet the patients need is not available. This may arise where, for example, there is a temporary shortage in supply; or

c. The prescribing forms part of a properly approved research project.

70. When prescribing an unlicensed medicine you must:

a. be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence or experience of using the medicine to demonstrate its safety and efficacy

b. take responsibility for prescribing the medicine and for overseeing the patients care, monitoring, and any follow up treatment, or ensure that arrangements are made for another suitable doctor to do so

c. make a clear, accurate and legible record of all medicines prescribed and, where you are not following common practice, your reasons for prescribing an unlicensed medicine.

Information for patients about the licence for their medicines.

71. You must give patients (or their parents or carers) sufficient information about the medicines you propose to prescribe to allow them to make an informed decision.

72. Some medicines are routinely used outside the terms of their licence, for example in treating children. In emergencies or where there is no realistic alternative treatment and such information is likely to cause distress, it may not be practical or necessary to draw attention to the licence. In other cases, where prescribing unlicensed medicines is supported by authoritative clinical guidance, it may be sufficient to describe in general terms why the medicine is not licensed for the proposed use or patient population. You must always answer questions from patients (or their parents or carers) about medicines fully and honestly.

73. If you intend to prescribe unlicensed medicines where that is not routine or if there are suitably licensed alternatives available, you should explain this to the patient, and your reasons for doing so.

74. You should be careful about using medical devices for purposes for which they were not intended.


*Further information about licensing of medicines can be found at

These examples are not intended to be exhaustive of the circumstances in which it may be necessary to prescribe an unlicensed medicine in order to meet a particular patients assessed needs.

The Medicines for Children leaflets on unlicensed medicines produced by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health/Neonatal and Paediatric Pharmacists Group Standing Committee on Medicines may be helpful in explaining to children and parents why such practice is common in caring for children. The British Pain Society publishes Using medicines beyond licence: Information for patients.

Retrieved on : 16 January 2014
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