Gluten-free prescriptions facing axe to save money

Gluten-free food can include cakes and biscuits
Gluten-free food can include cakes and biscuits

Prescriptions for gluten-free food could be scrapped in Fylde and Wyre.

The area’s clinical commissioning group (CCG), which organises and pays for healthcare for residents, said the move will save money at a time money is tight.

Jackie Panesar

Jackie Panesar

It follows the decision by Blackpool CCG to do the same, which came last year and sparked fears lives could be put in danger.

Views are being sought on the proposal, with Fleetwood GP Jackie Panesar, the clinical lead for medicines management saying: “We are always looking at getting the best value for money for our patients and, in an ever more demanding climate, working towards a more cost-efficient way of providing healthcare services for patients in Fylde and Wyre.”

People with coeliac disease, when the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten, can find it difficult to digest food and suffer from painful stomach and bowel conditions if they eat the ingredient, which is a mixture of proteins found in wheat and grains, including barley and rye.

It is an autoimmune disease and not a food allergy as sometimes believed.

People in vulnerable groups are going to suffer

Obvious sources of gluten include flours and flour-based foods like bread, pasta, cereal, cakes, and biscuits.

However, it is also found in fish fingers, sausages, gravies, stocks, and soy sauce. The NHS does not keep a register of people with the disease, although one in 100 people have it, charity Coeliac UK said. Of those, just 24 per cent have been diagnosed.

Clive Warren, 47, from Bispham, has coeliac disease and said he is unable to work. He says buying gluten-free bread can cost him up to £3 a day, and said gluten can be difficult to avoid: “People in vulnerable groups who rely on the help it gives are going to suffer.

“If people with coeliac disease do not stick to a gluten-free diet it will dramatically increase the burden on the NHS and shorten life.”

A 800g loaf of white Warburtons medium-sliced bread costs £1 at Tesco. However, a 535g loaf of Genius gluten-free bread costs £2.70, down 20p from late last year, price comparison website MoneySupermarket.co.uk showed on Thursday.

The CCG said prescriptions for gluten-free food were launched in the 60s when it was hard to get hold of. Last year, it spent £85,000 on food it said is now readily available at the supermarket.

But Sarah Sleet, chief executive at Coeliac UK, the national charity for people coeliac disease, said: “For someone medically diagnosed with coeliac disease there is no choice but to stick to a gluten-free diet, day in day out for life and so access to gluten-free staples is critical, and not as easy as you might think.

“The expansion of Free From aisles in large supermarkets masks the reality of very patchy provision.

“In particular, small stores and budget supermarkets have little, if any, gluten-free staples.

“Additionally, high prices make such products unaffordable for some. Both these issues put those the most in need at risk – those on a limited budget or with limited mobility.”

The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) estimates that the cost of gluten-free food to the NHS equates to £194.24 per diagnosed patient per year, making it an extremely low cost treatment.

To complete the survey, which will remain open until Friday, 26 August, visit www.fyldeandwyreccg.nhs.uk/gluten-free