Doctors urged not to prescribe for family members overseas


For immediate release: Monday, 28 July 2014

Doctors are urged to refrain from prescribing drugs for family or friends overseas, says UK-wide medical defence organisation MDDUS.

This reminder comes as MDDUS has dealt with a growing number of cases where doctors have faced GMC sanctions for prescribing drugs to those close to them, with some incidents involving medication issued to relatives living abroad.

This practice brings added risks relating to laws on the import and export of medications as well as concerns over access to the full medical history of patients outside the UK.

GMC fitness to practise proceedings have been raised against doctors for prescribing friends or family with drugs such as benzodiazepines and opiates as well as antibiotics and non-benzodiazepine hypnotics.

“Doctors should exercise caution in prescribing for friends or family, only doing so when absolutely necessary and based on clinical need rather than convenience,” says MDDUS medical adviser Dr Naeem Nazem.

“It may be difficult to justify these actions with the ready availability of out-of-hours services, walk-in centres and A&E departments.

“The first issue to consider is the GMC’s guidance which states doctors must, wherever possible, avoid prescribing for themselves or those with whom they have a close personal relationship.”

MDDUS has encountered cases where doctors have sent drugs overseas to relatives or friends, which raises a number of important issues.

Dr Nazem says: “Treating family or friends abroad has additional complications. Doctors must consider the safe storage and transfer of prescribed medicines as well as the UK regulatory framework for the export of medicines and the import regulations of the recipient country.

“In addition, doctors can encounter difficulties in prescribing for a patient they are unable to meet. In particular, doctors may not have access to the patient’s full medical history or their current medication.”

MDDUS has also handled cases involving doctors prescribing controlled drugs for family members. “GMC guidance on prescribing controlled drugs to family and friends is clear – yet we have dealt with cases where GPs have prescribed opiates, for example, for their wife or husband,” says Dr Nazem.

“We encourage doctors to play it safe and avoid diagnosing and treating themselves or loved ones with medicines. Otherwise, they may be called upon to justify why it was necessary for them to prescribe rather than the patient’s regular doctor.

“Doctors should recognise that self-prescribing drugs of dependence such as opiates or powerful painkillers is entirely unacceptable.

“In some cases, pharmacists have refused to dispense the medication but MDDUS has also encountered situations in which the pharmacist has dispensed the prescription and then reported the doctor to the GMC.” GMC guidance Good practice in prescribing and managing medicines and devices can be found 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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