The range of valid prescription formats is described below.

In the situation where the patient is not able to obtain a prescription, it is possible that a prescription medicine could be provided under the conditions described below.

Legal forms of prescriptions

Handwritten and hand-signed (in prescriber’s handwriting) on paper

The prescriber handwrites and hand-signs a paper prescription.

Computer generated via prescribing software, printed, and signed by hand

The prescriber generates the prescription using prescribing software, prints the prescription, and hand-signs it.

The prescription must comply with the Criteria for Issuing Non-Handwritten (Computer-Generated) Prescriptions (TG 184). Key criteria include:

  • system must prevent anyone but the prescriber from being able to generate/print prescription
  • must be hand-signed by the prescriber
  • no alterations permitted
  • for Schedule 8 medicines, the drug name, strength, quantity, directions for use, number of repeats and repeat intervals must also be hand-written by the prescriber

Prescriptions issued using a public hospital electronic medication management system with Cerner Prescription Output Version 2 comply with TG184. See the Factsheet for Community Pharmacies: Computer generated prescription formats from NSW public health facilities.

Conformant electronic prescriptions in community practice

  • Must be issued using a conformant electronic prescribing system (must have a Conformance ID)
  • The prescriber must populate the required data fields, including patient's date of birth
  • Must be transmitted using a conformant prescription delivery system (must have a Conformance ID)
  • Patient receives evidence of prescription (token) to present to his or her chosen pharmacy
  • Pharmacist must use a conformant electronic dispensing system (must have a Conformance ID)
  • For conformant systems see the Electronic Prescribing Conformance Register
  • More on electronic prescribing in NSW.

Paper-based PBS medication chart prescriptions for private hospitals

Paper-based medication chart prescriptions in Residential Care Facilities

  • Must be on the National Residential Medication Chart (NRMC) or chart with equivalent prescribing data elements to the NRMC
  • Cannot be used for Schedule 8 medicines, Schedule 4 appendix B medicines, or Schedule 4 authority-required medicines (clause 37)
  • Pharmacist dispenses using a copy of the medication chart prescription
  • For more information see Prescribing and Dispensing on a residential medication chart prescription

Electronic medication chart prescriptions in Residential Care Facilities

Image-based prescribing

Image-based prescriptions are only valid for dispensing at public health organisations. 

An image-based prescription is an image (photo or scan) of a hand-written and signed paper prescription or a computer-generated (via prescribing software), printed and hand-signed prescription. The original physical paper prescription does not need to be sent to the pharmacist.

The steps for image-based prescribing are : 

  • Medical practitioner or nurse practitioner creates and hand-signs a paper prescription
  • Medical practitioner or nurse practitioner sends a copy of the prescription (photo or scanned image) directly to the public health organisation pharmacy by fax or email
  • The image can only be created by the prescriber and dispensed by the hospital pharmacy. It cannot be sent to the patient or any other third party
  • The image cannot be sent by text/SMS or via an App or a website
  • Pharmacist must print the image and retain it and any repeats for two years
  • Any repeats can be dispensed only from the same public hospital pharmacy.

See also Hospitals.

Supply of medicines on a telephone, fax, or email order

  • The prescriber may send a direction for the pharmacist to dispense any medicine (including Schedule 8 and Schedule 4 Appendix D) by telephone (verbally and not via text/SMS), fax, or email which is followed by a paper-based prescription dispatched (via mail or hand deliver) to the pharmacist within 24 hours.
  • The prescriber must include words on the prescription that a direction was provided by telephone, fax, or email to dispense the medicine.
  • The pharmacist must notify the NSW Ministry of Health at if the paper-based prescription is not received at the pharmacy within 7 days.

Continued dispensing

Continued dispensing is a Commonwealth initiative that allows the supply of certain eligible PBS and RPBS medicines when a patient cannot obtain a prescription and there is an immediate need for the medicine. Pharmacists are able to supply a single PBS quantity of a Schedule 4 medicine specified in Schedule 1 of the National Health (Continued Dispensing) Determination 2022​​.​​​
The criteria which must be met for Continued Dispensing are detailed in the Department of Human Services Education guide - Continued Dispensing Initiative - PBS requirements​.

Emergency 7 day supply by pharmacist

Under clause 45 of the Regulation a pharmacist can supply up to 7 days treatment or the smallest standard pack of a liquid, inhaler, cream, or ointment of a prescription medicine (other than Schedule 4 Appendix D and Schedule 8 medicines), without a prescription, for essential treatment, to a patient who has previously been prescribed the medicine, there is an immediate need for continuation of treatment and it is not practicable for the patient to obtain a prescription.

Examples of illegal forms of prescriptions

  • Prescriptions on forms pre-populated by someone other than the prescriber (e.g. pharmacy, 'prescription broker', clerical assistant, patient).
    (In public hospitals patient details may be on a pre-printed sticker other than for Schedule 8 medicines).
  • Prescriptions sent through companies, websites or apps other than electronic prescriptions using conformant systems with Conformance IDs.
  • An image of a prescription provided to a patient.
  • An image provided to a pharmacy by anyone other than the prescriber.
  • Paper prescriptions with digital signatures.
  • Electronic or image-based veterinary prescriptions.

Other illegal/unprofessional scenarios

  • Prescriptions requested by the patient in response to websites offering to arrange a supply of Schedule 4 medicines (e.g. contraceptives/infertility treatments). This is contrary to Medical Board standards and telehealth principles (and Medicare rules). See, for example, Telehealth guidance for practitioners.
  • The decision whether to prescribe a Schedule 4 medicine for a patient and the choice of which medicine, form, strength and quantity, must be made by the prescriber, not governed by patient request or brokered by a third party such as a pharmacy, medicine sponsor or others who receive financial benefit from the prescribing of the medicine.

Current as at: Wednesday 10 January 2024
Contact page owner: Pharmaceutical Services