The British Dietectic Association (BDA) has backed calls to provide free gluten free staples on prescription in the UK.
According to medical guidelines, such foods should already be prescribed to those who are clinically diagnosed with coeliac disease. But the fear is that with budgets tight, some UK Primary Care Trusts are tempted to cut back on this area, threatening availability of ‘free from’ foods for coeliac disease sufferers. Concerns have also been raised regarding availability and price of gluten free products for consumers.
A report on BBC2’s Newsnight programme last night claimed two gluten free pizza bases could cost the National Health Service (NHS) as much as £34 (€42.4). The NHS spent £27m (€33.6m) on gluten-free prescriptions in 2011, according to the BDA.
Some claim that with budgets tight, some UK Primary Care Trusts are tempted to cut back on this area, threatening availability of ‘free from’ foods for coeliac disease sufferers. Concerns have also been raised regarding availability and price of gluten free products for consumers.
In a statement issued today following the media coverage, Coeliac UK claimed gluten free foods were too costly for the NHS and general consumers. “It is important to highlight that in England, prescriptions for gluten-free food are not free of charge unless a person qualifies for free prescriptions.
“Agreement on the reasonable cost of products is made at a national level. We are aware that NHS commissioners have come across evidence of additional local charges being added to products and as a result are restricting access to gluten-free items. The patient is losing out as a result.”
The BDA said it believed gluten free staple foods should be made available on prescription to all those diagnosed with coeliac disease. The Coeliac UK prescribing guide should be used to advise on the amounts that should be prescribed, it said.
New models of supply
In addition, the BDA said it actively supported and encouraged dieticians to lead and engage in the design and delivery of new models of supply. These could include a pharmacy supply scheme, a multi-disciplinary approach involving dieticians, medicine managers and local doctors.
Coeliac UK said: “Accessing gluten-free breads, flours and pastas in the supermarkets is not as easy as people think. Such products have been shown to be virtually absent from budget and convenience stores and where they are available, they will cost three to four times more than their gluten-containing equivalents. This will add many hundreds of pounds to the annual shopping bill making them unaffordable for vulnerable patients.”
Lorna Gardner, member of the BDA’s Gastroenterology Specialist Group, agreed availability of gluten free products at retail level was patchy. She also questioned whether products sold in retail outlets were as nutritious as products supplied on prescription.
“The cost and availability of gluten free products can be a cause of incomplete dietary compliance and research has found limited availability of gluten free products across different retail outlets.
“Coeliac patients obtain a greater percentage of their intake of nutrients such as fibre, calcium, iron, carbohydrate and energy from specialist gluten free products on prescription compared with retail-based alternatives.”