Prescribing: a personal responsibility

Prescription writing is one of the most powerful tools that a doctor has in their arsenal of care—but that also leaves it open to abuse and errors. Prescription best practice and guidelines are your defence against these issues.



  • What good prescribing practice looks like.
  • Practical advice on avoiding common prescription errors.


Prescribing: a personal responsibility


Prescribing appropriately is a personal responsibility of medical practitioners. You must resist any pressure applied by anyone else including your employer or your patients to prescribe inappropriately.

The Medical Council’s Guideline “Good Prescribing Practice” dated November 2016 states:

“Make the care of patients your first concern. You should only prescribe medicines or treatment when you have adequately assessed the patient’s condition, and/or have adequate knowledge of the patient’s condition and are therefore satisfied that the medicines or treatment are in the patient’s best interests. Alternatively you may prescribe on the instructions of a senior colleague or a practice colleague who can satisfy the above criteria, as long as you are confident that the medicines or treatment are safe and appropriate for that patient and the patient has given his or her informed consent. Medicines or treatment must not be prescribed for your own convenience or simply because patients demand them.“

We therefore advise:

  1. Avoid writing prescriptions for yourself or those with whom you have a close personal relationship. It is never appropriate to prescribe or administer medicines with a risk of addiction or misuse, psychotropic medication or controlled drugs to yourself or someone close to you. An independent doctor should be engaged in these circumstances.
  2. Avoid prescribing for a patient you have not examined except in circumstances where a colleague has done so and you are confident that the medications or treatment are safe and appropriate.
  3. Keep accurate records of all medicines, including non-prescription medicines, prescribed or taken by patients.
  4. Never falsify any part of a script. It is a criminal act to falsify a signature on a script, or to enter any patient details which the doctor knows to be incorrect e.g. the intended recipient of the medication.

In short, avoid prescribing for yourself, those you know, or for patients whose diagnoses and course of care you aren’t confident in.


Current as at 6 November 2018


If you are concerned about correct prescribing, or you are worried that one of your prescriptions has gone awry, get in touch with NZMPI’s team of medico-legal advisors now.