Pharmacies can help detect coeliac disease

Community pharmacies could speed up early diagnosis and increase detection rates for coeliac disease, according to the results of a pilot study funded by Coeliac UK.

Over a six month period, 15 community pharmacies provided free testing for the antibodies produced in coeliac disease to patients presenting with prescriptions or requesting OTC medicines indicated in the management of IBS, diarrhoea and other gastro-intestinal problems.

Of the 551 individuals tested, 52 (9.4 per cent) were given a positive result, potentially indicating coeliac disease as the cause of their symptoms. All patients were given advice regarding the test results and those who tested positive were advised to make an appointment with their GP.

Of 43 customers who returned the satisfaction survey, all would recommend the service to others, believing the community pharmacy to be a suitable location for testing. Community pharmacists believed that it enabled them to improve relationships with their customers and that general practices were receptive to the service.

Sarah Sleet, chief executive of Coeliac UK, said: “We are thrilled with the results of the study which clearly shows the importance and value of utilising the expertise of community pharmacists. However, we are worried that the announcement by the Government to significantly cut funding to community pharmacists and the barriers imposed by the inflexibility of NHS structures, will impede the wider introduction of this approach.

"The direct costs associated with undiagnosed coeliac disease are increased visits to the GP, use of medicines for symptomatic treatment, increased investigations and referral which all cost the NHS more in the long run, while the patient pays the price of reduced quality of life as misdiagnosis can mean an average wait of 13 years to get diagnosed.”

The pilot study was managed by the National Association of Primary Care (NAPC) and supported by Tillotts Pharma Ltd., Rowlands, Jhoots, Cranston Pharmacy and Pinnacle Health Partnership LLP. The findings were published in August 2016 in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy.

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