Scrapping of gluten-free food prescriptions will ‘put lives at risk’

Dr Amanda Doyle, Blackpool GP and clinical lead with NHS Blackpool Clinical Commissioning Group
Dr Amanda Doyle, Blackpool GP and clinical lead with NHS Blackpool Clinical Commissioning Group
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Health bosses have been accused of putting lives at risk after scrapping prescriptions for gluten-free foods.

Blackpool Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said the move will save £70,000, cash that will instead go towards battling some of the resort’s biggest health problems.

Boss Dr Amanda Doyle said: “The price paid by the NHS is considerably higher than supermarket prices and in some cases is twice as expensive.

“Gluten-free foods are readily available from major supermarkets at a similar cost to their gluten-containing equivalents and therefore patients are not being unfairly disadvantaged by having to purchase these foods.”

A 800g loaf of white Warburtons medium-sliced bread costs £1 at Tesco.

However, a 535g loaf of Genius gluten-free bread costs £2.90, price comparison website MoneySupermarket.co.uk said yesterday.

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. The CCG is putting lives in danger in an attempt to save money.”

Nurse Clive Horton, 44, from Salmesbury Avenue in Bispham, said the move will add £50 to £60 extra a month to his food bill.

He added: “Fortunately I have money and a good job but there are an awful lot of people in my situation who don’t, they may put their bodies at risk because they think, ‘I can’t afford that so I’ll just eat gluten’.

“A saving of £70,000 against treating complications because people just put up with the side effects could be a false economy.”

Prescriptions in Fylde and Wyre have not been affected and there are no plans to scrap them, it is understood.

WHAT IS COELIAC DISEASE AND GLUTEN ANYWAY?

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.

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.

Coeliac UK boss Sarah Sleet said: “The decision by Blackpool CCG to remove gluten-free prescription services for everyone of all ages, regardless of circumstances, with coeliac disease is being based on budgets rather than patient need.

“The patients affected by this policy change haven’t been consulted so how can the CCG have considered the potential long term damage to health by removing this vital service?”