The BNF tells you about drugs you are prescribed

The dictionary that lists major medicines – and their possible effects


Anyone visiting their doctor in Britain will notice that, after they have discussed your symptoms, they will tell you they are going to prescribe something – then they will often reach for a thick book that’s always lying on their desk.

This is the British National Formulary – or BNF for short.

The BNF is a joint publication of the British Medical Association and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. It is published biannually under the authority of a Joint Formulary Committee which comprises representatives of the two professional bodies and of the UK Health Departments.  Various official medical bodies also advise on content.  And the doctor is looking up possible side effects, and contra-indications.

The NHS supplies this volume to its staff, but if you are a patient you can buy a copy direct from the publishers.  When it arrives, it may look daunting, but  go to pages x – xv first.  These tell you how to use this book – and are well worth reading first, to give you some idea of how to find what you need to know.

Then off you go – with a warning!  This book is addictive!  Once you have found your way around, you will keep on finding excuses to consult it and its incredible amount of useful information.

The the BNF aims to provide prescribers, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals with sound up-to-date information about the use of medicines.  After dipping into the BNF, I wish that I had had a copy when I started out with cancer;  then I wouldn’t have had nasty surprises with side effects, but would have been told of these, in sensible, non-sensational language.  There, under Tamoxifen, are listed the side effects I had, which my oncologists told me they had never seen these before, or were due to my age.

I would have waved the BNF at them – and asked if they hadn’t known of side effects, why hadn’t they read up what was written there?

The BNF includes key information on the selection, prescribing, dispensing and administration of medicines. Medicines generally prescribed in the UK are covered and those considered less suitable for prescribing are clearly identified. Little or no information is included on medicines promoted for purchase by the public.  So if it’s not mentioned, and hasn’t been prescribed by your doctor, prescribing nurse, consultant or other qualified medical practictioner – be very, very careful.

It’s not for everyone – if you have confidence in your medical team they will consult this book, and then read out anything they think you need to know.  But if you are worried – then this book, hopefully, will set your mind at rest, or at least give you enough facts to keep you informed.

The price of the printed BNF is £29.99 (see for more details). However, it can be accessed online, free of charge to UK residents, at

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