Coeliac UK warns prescription cuts could cost NHS more money

Coeliac UK has warned that the proposed cuts to prescriptions of gluten-free food in Bradford could end up costing the NHS more money in the long run. 

closeup on doctor woman giving prescription

Coeliac UK is strongly opposing prescription cuts proposed by Bradford City and Bradford Districts Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), who spent £320, 000 on gluten-free food prescriptions last year, claims the cuts will help save £13m from their 2016/17 budgets.

The charity feels that this move will ultimately cost the NHS a lot more money in the long term as vulnerable patients could find that their ability to stick to a gluten-free diet could be affected., and that this could potentially lead to the development of more serious health problems including osteoporosis, infertility and, in some rare cases, small bowel cancer.

The chief executive of Coeliac UK, Sarah Sleet, said the proposal to remove gluten-free prescription services for everyone with coeliac disease was “being based on budgets rather than patient need or clinical evidence”.

“The provision of gluten-free staple food on prescription is a vital element of the support offered to all patients by the NHS and it is essential to prevent long term damage to health,” she added. “Simple switching to alternative carbs such as rice and potatoes risks malnutrition, with bread alone providing between ten and 20 per cent of our most important nutrients such as protein, calcium and iron, but potatoes and rice only providing a fraction of this.”

The charity is also dismissing claims by the CCGs that the range and availability of gluten-free products has increased dramatically in supermarkets meaning it is cheaper and more readily available to patients with coeliac disease, as they claim that in actual fact the estimated cost of gluten-free food to the NHS is approximately £194.24 per patient per year, making it an extremely low cost treatment.

Glutten free /  Medicine concept (Click for more)

Dr Sohail Abbas, clinical lead for prescribing at NHS Bradford City CCG, said: “We are facing some tough challenges in the months ahead to improve service quality while bringing about essential financial savings in the local NHS. Currently the Bradford CCGs spends £320,000 each year on gluten-free food on prescription. Although these have historically been prescribed, gluten-free foods are not medicines and in the recent past have become widely available from supermarkets and online. While the cost of gluten-free products is free for the patient if they are exempt from prescription charges, this still has to be paid for by taxes; and the cost to the NHS of a loaf of bread on prescription is much higher than bought over the counter.

“Basic gluten free flours and pre-prepared products are all available and the cost of these products has come down considerably over the past few years. We fully accept that gluten-free foods are more expensive than normal bread and pasta, but this only accounts for a limited amount of someone’s food budget. Lots of foods are naturally gluten-free and people can live a perfectly healthy life without the need to eat any gluten related products. This is not a pleasant or easy decision to consider, but we need to balance the health and wellbeing of the affected patients with the need for the CCG to share its resources equitably across our whole population.”

Consultation about whether to continue to prescribe gluten-free foods runs until September 30 online and through public events, and the CCG are encouraging any coeliac patients across Bradford to complete this questionnaire so that their opinions are heard. 

This story first appeared on the Telegraph & Argus website.