Charity opposes axing GF prescriptions

Coeliac UK is “fundamentally opposed” to the complete removal of access to gluten-free food on prescription, as proposed in the Department of Health’s consultation on the availability of gluten-free foods on prescription in primary care.

The Department of Health announced the consultation at the end of March, stating that as gluten-free foods are now sold in many supermarkets and a wider range of naturally gluten-free food types is also available, prescriptions for these foods are less crucial and money could be saved.

It is thought that ending the prescription of all gluten-free foods in primary care could save the NHS £25.7 million a year, with an additional £10 million saved through patients no longer needing to attend GP appointments to get these prescriptions.

The consultation sets out three options to amend the current regulations:

  • Option 1: Make no changes so foods would continue to be prescribed in primary care at NHS expense, as they are now
  • Option 2: End the prescribing of all gluten-free foods in primary care
  • Option 3: Only allow the prescribing of certain gluten-free foods (e.g. bread and flour) in primary care.

While Coeliac UK welcomes the consultation as a way to end the so-called postcode lottery facing people with coeliac disease currently, the charity is fundamentally opposed to the complete removal of access to gluten free food on prescription. The charity claims this would remove the safety net for vulnerable patients, putting them at risk of the serious health complications such as osteoporosis which may result from not keeping to a strict gluten-free diet, and will cost the NHS more in the long run. 

Chief executive of Coeliac UK Sarah Sleet pointed out that “the basic cost of gluten-free food on prescription is £194.24 per patient per year. By contrast, treatment of an osteoporotic hip fracture costs on average £27,000 – the equivalent to 138 years of prescribing gluten free staples for an individual.”

Ms Sleet continued: “What’s more, the removal of access to gluten free core staples on prescription has a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable, with lack of availability in convenience and budget stores used by the most disadvantaged and high prices putting them beyond the reach of many on low or fixed incomes,” she continued.

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