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Call to drop gluten-free food prescriptions

Clinicians should stop prescribing foods for patients who are allergic to gluten because of the growing financial pressures on local health bodies, experts have recommended.

At present, prescribers can issue scripts for a number of foods, including specially manufactured breads, rolls, pasta, flour and bread mixes, pizza bases, crackers and oats, to patients who suffer from coeliac disease.

But the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin has said that the NHS should stop writing out the prescriptions and have urged health officials to find a better way to support patients.

Prescriptions for gluten-free staple items were first introduced in the 1960s when there was limited access to these foods outside of the NHS.

But gluten-free products are becoming increasingly available in shops, the editors of the DTB suggested this week. And there are growing financial pressures on local health bodies, they said.

The NHS spent £27m on gluten-free prescriptions in 2011. The authors added that prescribing foods for patients is a “bureaucratic” process.

They suggested that patients should be given food vouchers to obtain gluten-free foods or people with coeliac disease should be given personalised budgets to buy staple items.

“With growing pressure on primary care budgets, and increasing awareness and availability of gluten-free food in shops and supermarkets, it is right to question whether the current arrangements for supplying such products is appropriate,” they write.

“We would urge commissioners to consider redesigning services to ensure that there is ongoing support for people with coeliac disease and to remove the bureaucratic process of prescribing food from primary care.”

Readers' comments (6)

  • Maybe pressure could be put on manufacturers to reduce the price of gluten-free products. I accept they can never be as cheap to produce as mainstream products due to economies of scale. However, the majority of people cannot have free staple dietary items, they have to pay full price for them. So, although I sympathise with those who cannot tolerate gluten, it seems unfair to utilise the health budget for their food.

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  • Try reducing benefit fraud instead of penalising people who have intolerances (and other problems) as always the wrong people suffer, it doesn't matter what we think or feel, it will happen anyway, that's the government for you. Why don't they try and help by reducing the cost of gluten free food, it is shocking

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  • I have coeliac disease and find gluten free food very expensive.I have to ration my food and sometimes go without as I can't afford it. I pay a years prescription and this helps with the cost, so to loose gluten free off prescription would be very worrying.
    The government should put pressure on manufactures of gluten free food to bring down the cost. Being coeliac is not a choice we have to eat and it's about time all manufactures treated us with equality
    and stop trying to make us pay through the nose for our food.

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  • shouldn't prescriptions cover the cost of the difference between gluten-free and ordinary foods? it seems hard to justify the payment by taxpayers of a staple diet for which everybody has to pay. Also there must be other choices besides bread, pizza, pasta etc. I don't have an intolerance but I don't eat any of the foods on a regular basis either with a preference for fresh food such as a little meat and fish and lots of fresh fruit, veg. and dairy produce in moderation.

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  • I have a diagnosed wheat intolerance therefore hav eto buy my own foods as a previous writer said why should coeliacs get cheap food asthmatics doent get free scripts peanut allergies diont get food on Rx although they can also have problems finding safe foods. i think by much the most realistic idea is for the government to put pressue on manufactuerers to bring the cost down to a reasonable level

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  • wouldn't it be more fair if people paid for their food like anybody else and only the extra costs are incurred for special diets which are essential are supported by the NHS and tax payer.

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