A televised report for BBC2’s Newsnight programme claimed gluten free products sourced on prescription were costing the UK NHS too much cash. The programme referred to figures suggesting that a single gluten free loaf of bread could cost the NHS as much as £32 (€39.98).
However, Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, editor of the Foods Matter website and the brains behind the UK Free From Food Awards pointed out that these figures had been debunked by Welsh Health Minister Lesley Griffiths.
Griffiths said: “This claim is inaccurate. The actual cost for the single loaf of gluten-free bread in question is around £2.82 (€3.52), not the £32 claimed. The £32 cost quoted is for an average prescription on which several loaves are ordered at a time.
“Over the last 12 months there were 27 prescriptions issued for the gluten free bread quoted as costing £32 per loaf. On the 27 prescriptions, the total amount of the bread prescribed was 123,600g. Each loaf is 400g. Therefore, 309 loaves were prescribed for £871.36 (€1,088.63), ie. £2.82 per 400g loaf.”
However, Berriedale-Johnson said the correct figure was still “excessive”. “Even if the cost to the NHS is not that great, you would like it to cost exactly the same [as conventional food products],” she told FoodNavigator. That said, she conceded that processing costs of such foods might be higher, meaning they might have to be priced at a premium.
The debate had also provoked the issue of whether gluten free foods should be provided on prescription at all in the UK. The same was not true for foods for diabetics, for example, said Berriedale-Johnson. Norway uses a voucher scheme to subsidise the cost of gluten free products, she said.
Overall it might be preferable for gluten free products to be available through mainstream retail outlets and internet channels than on prescription, said Berriedale-Johnson. “Gluten free suppliers should be focusing on the retail market. There are more opportunities in retail.” However, she acknowledged that gluten free products available to mainstream consumers were not always as nutritious as those provided through the NHS.
“Gluten free products certainly could have a better nutritional profile. Some are fantastic and some are not. Gluten free breads could also be fortified. There is definitely an opportunity to produce food to higher nutritional standards.”