Self-prescribing not illegal, but unethical


For immediate release: Tuesday, 22 May 2012

It is unethical for dentists to routinely prescribe drugs for themselves, family or friends and they should only do so in emergency situations, warns MDDUS.

Many dentists may hold the view that the ability to self-prescribe is a convenient aspect of the job and that, by self prescribing something straightforward such as antibiotics, they are simply saving time and resources.

However, UK-wide dental defence organisation MDDUS has handled cases where dentists have been subject to fitness to practise proceedings for either self-prescribing or for prescribing to a family member or friend.

Therefore, it is good practice for dentists to only prescribe drugs to meet the dental needs of their patients. “Self-prescribing is not technically illegal,” says MDDUS dental adviser Claire Renton. “But it does raise serious ethical concerns and could ultimately result in a complaint to the GDC.

“Dentists should proceed with extreme caution when considering prescribing any medication for themselves or someone close to them. If in doubt, they should only do so in situations where urgent care is required and there are no immediate alternatives.

“Drugs should only be prescribed for the dental needs of your patients. As always, it is important to take comprehensive clinical notes so you can justify your actions. These notes should include the treatment provided, any medication prescribed and your relationship with the patient.”

There is a greater regulatory climate nowadays that’s reflected in the GDC’s guidance Responsible Prescribing. The guidance advises against treating and diagnosing yourself or those close to you. It states: "Other than in emergencies, you should not prescribe drugs for yourself or for anyone with whom you have a close personal or emotional relationship.”

There are many reasons for such tight controls on self-prescribing, mainly concerning the loss of objectivity as the guidance cautions: “Part of prescribing drugs responsibly means prescribing only when you are able to form an objective view of your patient’s health and clinical needs. Everyone needs objective clinical advice and treatment.

“Dentists who prescribe drugs for themselves or those close to them may not be able to remain objective and risk overlooking serious problems, encouraging or tolerating addiction, or interfering with care or treatment provided by other healthcare professionals.”

“It is good practice for dentists to follow GDC guidance when contemplating whether or not to prescribe for a family member or friend,” adds Mrs Renton. “Even if it is a prescription for something innocuous, you don’t want to do anything that might compromise your professionalism and duty of patient care.”

For full GDC guidance on responsible prescribing, click here


For further information contact Richard Hendry on 0845 270 2034 or 07976 272266, or email

Note to editors

MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland) is a medical and dental defence organisation providing access to professional indemnity and expert medico- and dento-legal advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals throughout the UK. For further information on MDDUS go to

This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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