How to buy cheap medicines, painkillers and vitamins

How to buy cheap medicines, painkillers and vitamins

Own-brand drugs are just as good as branded, but a fraction of the price.

Ruth Jackson

Saving and Making Money

Ruth Jackson
Updated on 8 October 2015

Next time you are shopping for painkillers, vitamins or hayfever tablets think twice before you pop the big-name products in your basket. Opting for branded drugs is costing you a small fortune despite the fact own-brand copies are just as good.

Medicines and supplements sold by the big names such as Nurofen, Clarityn or Centrum can be many times more expensive than the own brand equivalent. But they contain exactly the same ingredients and the cheaper versions do just as good a job, according to medical experts.

“Branded and generic products are the same if the dose of the drug and the formulation are exactly the same,” says Professor Jayne Lawrence, chief scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society

There are a number of reasons for the mark up. Firstly, the brand may have paid for the research and development of the drug, which can cost a fortune. But, says Lawrence: "Once the patent on the original version runs out, other companies are free to make their own version, and as they don’t bear the original development costs they can sell it much more cheaply.”

Another factor is the marketing budget of the firm. Companies like Nurofen or Clarityn have large advertising budgets and pay supermarkets and pharmacies to stock them at eye-level on the shelves. All that money has to be recouped.

Drug price hikes

The table below breaks down the cheapest deal you can get on supermarket drugs, alongside the price you'll pay in the same supermarket for branded versions, which makes clear the astonishing mark-up you'll shell out for branded drugs.


Supermarket own brand price

Brand price



30p (Tesco)

£2.00 (Nurofen)



19p (Asda)

£1.45 (Panadol)



25p (Asda)

£1 (Anadin)


Hayfever tablets

£1 (Asda)

£6 (Clarityn)


Multivitamin tablets

£1.17 (Morrisons)

£3.50 (Centrum)


Flu tablets

60p (Sainsbury's)

£4.95 (Sudafed)


Dispersable aspirin


£3.60 (Alka Seltzer)


Flu sachets

69p (Boots/Superdrug)

£3.29 (Lemsip)



Don't forget prescriptions

Many people are also paying through the nose for prescribed medication. A study by the Mail on Sunday earlier this year found a number of examples where the treatments prescribed by doctors could be bought over the counter from a chemist for less than the standard £8.20 prescription charge.

For example, of the 15.6 million prescriptions doctors made for skin softening 'emollients' in England in 2014, more than 60% cost less than the prescription charge when purchased direct from the chemist.

How to cut your medicine costs

[SPOTLIGHT]The easiest, safest way to keep your medicine costs down is to buy supermarkets' own brand products. As the table above shows, this will save you a small fortune.

But also consider shopping around online. You could save even more money; just make sure you are buying from a reputable source and get what you expect.

If you are regularly making purchases of hayfever tablets or painkillers, consider visiting a doctor. They can assess you and make sure you are taking the best thing to help with your issue, and they may actually write you a prescription for your medicines. If you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland this will mean you get your drugs for free. In England you will have to pay £8.20 per prescription, but this could still be cheaper than buying them over the counter depending on how much you are prescribed.

If you live in England and are regularly paying for prescriptions, then consider getting a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC). A three-month PPC costs £29.10, so if you know you’ll need four or more prescriptions you’ll save money. Alternatively, a 12-month PPC costs £104 so is cost effective if you need more than 12 prescriptions. 


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