Gluten-free staples are to remain on prescription

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The department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) announced recently that gluten-free breads and flour mixes will remain on prescription in England. This is following a public consultation that garnered almost 8,000 responses; including 1,150 from healthcare professionals.

Participants in the consultation were given 3 options:

  1. make no changes
  2. stop prescription of all gluten-free foods
  3. only allow the prescription of certain gluten free foods (eg bread and flour)

81% of participants chose the third option; only allow the prescription of certain gluten free foods (e.g. bread and flour). 70% of participants also opted for gluten-free prescribing to be restricted.

The participants had raised “issues” such as “inconsistencies in the availability of bread and flour mixes, taste differences between prescription-only products and those available in supermarkets, price differences (especially bread), and accessibility – especially those who rely on pharmacy deliveries”, the DHSC said.

“Many” respondents said that for coeliac patients gluten-free food is “like a medicine and should remain on prescription”, the DHSC added.

“Others felt it was not a medicine and should not be available on the NHS, and that GP services should not be used as grocers.”

According to the DHSC, some of the responses gathered also pointed out that: “Pharmacies…are not equipped to deal with holding large stocks of foods, which often have a short shelf-life, or are bulky.”

In its response to the consultation, the DHSC said “the health minister’s preferred option” is to “restrict prescribing to certain products”. “This is likely to result in retaining a smaller range of bread and mixes,” said Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) English pharmacy board chair Sandra Gidley who welcomed the DHSC’s decision.

“Evidence shows that replacement of core staples such as breads and flours by gluten-free equivalents enables better adherence to a gluten-free diet. This in turn avoids ill-health and expensive treatment of complications,” she said.

“Access to gluten-free core staple products on prescription helps to mitigate against the risk of health inequalities too.”

Why are prescriptions for gluten free staples important?

People who suffer with coeliac disease have ot follow a very strict gluten-free diet as part of their treatment. To help them to maintain a helathy lifestyle they need to have access to gluten-free staple foods such as; bread, flour, breakfast cereals and pasta.

We are lucky enough that the availability of gluten-free staple foods have increased dramatically over the years. However, there are still places in the UK where people do not have access. Many budget and convenience shops still don’t sell gluten-free staple products and unless consumers are able to get to a supermarket which could be miles away they are left without which could have serious impact on their health.

Another issue is the cost of gluten-free staple foods in shops. They can cost three to four times more than regular gluten containing products. Gram for gram bread is on average five times more expensive and more than eight times the cost if you compare it against the cheapest breads. The result is that without the continued prescription of gluten-free staple foods the vulnerable, those living on a limited income, elderly and people living in remote rural areas would struggle to maintain a gluten-free diet which is a potentially serious health risk.