British National Formulary

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British National Formulary
BNF 71 book cover image.jpg
The standard cover design is easily identified with each six-monthly edition distinguished by a different jacket colour. BNF 71 (March 2016) is shown.
Author Royal Pharmaceutical Society
Country United Kingdom
Language British English
Subject Pharmacy
Genre Clinical Pharmacy reference
Publisher Pharmaceutical Press
Publication date
March 2016 = 71st Edition
ISBN 978-0-85711-272-9
OCLC 299701920
Preceded by 978-0-85711-173-9

The British National Formulary (BNF) is a pharmaceutical reference book that contains a wide spectrum of information and advice on prescribing and pharmacology, along with specific facts and details about many medicines available on the National Health Service (NHS). Information within the BNF includes indication(s), contraindications, side effects, doses, legal classification, names and prices of available proprietary and generic formulations, and any other notable points.[1] Though it is a national formulary, it nevertheless also includes entries for some medicines which are not available under the NHS and must be prescribed and/or bought privately. A symbol clearly denotes such drugs in their entry.

It is used by pharmacists and doctors (both general practitioners and specialist practitioners), and by other prescribing healthcare professionals (such as nurses, pharmacy technicians, paramedics, and dentists) as a reference for correct dosage, indication, interactions and side effects of drugs. It is also used as a reassurance by those administering drugs, for example a nurse on a hospital ward, and even for patients and others seeking an authoritative source of advice on any aspect of pharmacotherapy.

The British Pharmacopoeia (BP) specifies quality standards for the making of drugs listed in the BNF.


Many individuals and organisations contribute towards the preparation of the BNF. It is jointly published by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the BMJ Group, which is owned by the British Medical Association. It is published under the authority of a Joint Formulary Committee which comprises representatives of the two professional bodies and the Department of Health.

Information on drugs is drawn from the manufacturers' product literature, medical and pharmaceutical literature, regulatory authorities and professional bodies. Advice is constructed from clinical literature and reflects, as far as possible, an evaluation of the evidence from diverse sources. The BNF also takes account of authoritative national guidelines and emerging safety concerns. In addition, the Joint Formulary Committee takes advice on all therapeutic areas from expert clinicians; this ensures that the BNF's recommendations are relevant to practice. However, in September 2013 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the UK opened a consultation on its draft decision not to give NICE accreditation to the processes to produce BNF publications following a review by an independent advisory committee.[2]


A new edition is published twice a year, in March and September. The current edition is 71, which was published in March 2016. As a custom, the colour of each edition is radically different from the previous.


The BNF is available as a book, a website and a mobile app. The book is available for purchase and also distributed to healthcare professionals in the UK at no direct cost to them.[3] NHS workers and healthcare professionals in the HINARI group of developing nations are entitled to free access via MedicinesComplete following registration (requires provision of a name, an address, an email address, and a phone number). Other visitors can subscribe to the BNF on MedicinesComplete.[4] Healthcare organisations can also subscribe to a customisable BNF via their intranet online.[5] In June 2012, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence released applications for offline access to the BNF on iOS and Android devices. An NHS Athens log-in is required to use this application, and monthly content updates are available, over an internet connection.[6]


It was first published in 1949 as the National Formulary with updated versions appearing every three years until 1976. The fifth version in 1957 saw its name change to The British National Formulary.[7][8] A new look version was released in 1981.[9] A study in Northern Ireland looking at prescribing in 1965, reported that the BNF was likely able to serve the requirements of prescribers in general practice, while also achieving a cost saving.[10] By 2003, issue 46 of the BNF contained 3000 interactions or groups of interactions, with about 900 of these marked by a bullet.[11]

Sister publications[edit]

The British National Formulary for Children (BNF-C)[12][13] is published yearly, and details the doses and uses of medicines in children.

The Nurse Prescriber's Formulary for Community Practitioners (NPF) is issued in print every two years, for use by District Nurses and Specialist Community Public Health Nurses (including Health Visitors) who have received training to become nurse prescribers.[14]


The BNF is divided into various sections with the main sections on drugs and preparations being organised by body system.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • How BNF publications are constructed
  • How to use the BNF
  • Changes
  • Guidance on prescribing
  • Prescription writing
  • Emergency supply of medicines
  • Controlled drugs and drug dependence
  • Adverse reactions to drugs
  • Guidance on intravenous infusions
  • Prescribing for children
  • Prescribing in hepatic impairment
  • Prescribing in renal impairment
  • Prescribing in pregnancy
  • Prescribing in breast-feeding
  • Prescribing in palliative care
  • Prescribing for the elderly
  • Drugs and sport
  • Prescribing in dental practice

Notes on drugs and preparations

  1. Gastro-intestinal system
  2. Cardiovascular system
  3. Respiratory system
  4. Nervous system
  5. Infection
  6. Endocrine system
  7. Genito-urinary system
  8. Malignant disease
  9. Blood and nutrition
  10. Musculoskeletal system
  11. Eye
  12. Ear, nose, and oropharynx
  13. Skin
  14. Vaccines
  15. Anaesthesia
  16. Emergency treatment of poisoning

Appendices and indices

  • Appendix 1 Interactions
  • Appendix 2 Borderline substances
  • Appendix 3 Cautionary and advisory labels for dispensed medicines
  • Appendix 4 Wound management products and elasticated garments
  • Dental Practitioners’ Formulary
  • Nurse Prescribers’ Formulary
  • Non-medical prescribing
  • Index of proprietary manufacturers
  • Special-order manufacturers

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Products: British National Formulary". BNF. Retrieved 19 July 2014. 
  2. ^ "NICE seeks views to inform BNF accreditation decision" (Press release). National Institute of Health and Care Excellence. 6 September 2013. Retrieved 19 July 2014. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ MedicinesComplete
  5. ^ BNF on FormularyComplete
  6. ^ "NICE apps for smartphones and tablets". National Institute of Health and Care Excellence. April 2014. Retrieved 19 July 2014. 
  7. ^ Anon (1957). "The British National Formulary". British Medical Journal 2 (5047): 758–759. PMC 1962234. PMID 13460381. 
  8. ^ Wade, O. L. (1993). "British National Formulary: Its birth, death, and rebirth". BMJ (Clinical research ed.) 306 (6884): 1051–1054. doi:10.1136/bmj.306.6884.1051. PMC 1676980. PMID 8490505. 
  9. ^ Anon (1978). "British National Formulary 1976-8". British Medical Journal 2 (6136): 580–581. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.6136.580-b. PMC 1606955. PMID 20792725. 
  10. ^ Wade, O. L.; McDevitt, G. D. (1966). "Prescribing and the british national formulary". British Medical Journal 2 (5514): 635–637. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.5514.635. PMC 1943465. PMID 20791099. 
  11. ^ Aronson, J. K. (2004). "Drug interactions-information, education, and the British National Formulary". British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 57 (4): 371–372. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2125.2004.02125.x. PMC 1884473. PMID 15025733. 
  12. ^ Elias-Jones, A.; Rylance, G. (2005). "The launch of the British National Formulary for Children". Archives of Disease in Childhood 90 (10): 997–998. doi:10.1136/adc.2005.080366. PMC 1720111. PMID 16177154. 
  13. ^ British National Formulary for Children
  14. ^ "Products: Nurse Prescribers' Formulary". BNF. Retrieved 19 July 2014. 

External links[edit]