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OTC Medicine

General sale medicines

People can buy general sale medicine packs from retail outlets such as corner shops and supermarkets. The medicines—also called ‘general sales list (GSL) medicines’—are also available for self-selection in pharmacies.


General sale medicines are taken for common, easily recognised ailments which usually last around 2–3 days. These medicines cause few troublesome side effects in normal use.

Female Pharmacist
Prescription Medication

To reduce the chances of harm from inappropriate use, many general sale medicines packs contain only a few doses and they often carry advice to get help from a health professional if the ailment does not improve or gets worse. A general sale medicine may be advised for treating a limited range of conditions whereas the same medicine can be used for a wider range of conditions when it is sold as a pharmacy medicine and an even wider range of conditions when supplied on prescription.


Prescription-only medicines and pharmacy medicines can be used at higher doses and for longer duration than general sale medicines. Also, medicines in general sale packs may be used for only certain groups of people; for example, they may not be advised for use by children or during pregnancy.

Examples of general sale medicines include small packs of painkillers and of antihistamines for hayfever and other allergies.

‘Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines’ covers all general sale medicines and pharmacy medicines. The description conveniently distinguishes medicines that can be bought from those that must be prescribed. The term ‘over the counter medicines’ is informal and is not used in the UK medicines regulations.

Doctor and Patient
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