> Should the NHS Cease Food Prescriptions for Coeliac Sufferers? - The Food Safety Company Should the NHS Cease Food Prescriptions for Coeliac Sufferers? - The Food Safety Company
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    Wednesday, 11 January 2017

    Should the NHS Cease Food Prescriptions for Coeliac Sufferers?

    In a recent article published to the British Medical Journal, GP Dr James Cave made some strong statements that are sure to inspire trepidation among the country’s coeliac sufferers. In his article, he says that the NHS should call an end to the prescriptions for gluten-free food currently given to patients with coeliac disease, describing the current situation as a “ludicrous” arrangement which forces GPs to “behave as grocers”.

    Glutafin's gluten-free foods, among those from other brands, are currently available on prescription for coeliac sufferers - Img: Glutafin
    His assertion was always going to be a source of controversy, but is he wrong? Before we dive into that debate, take a look at his full statements below:

    "It's ludicrous for the NHS to be treating a food product as a drug and to require GPs and pharmacists to behave as grocers. It's a time-consuming rigmarole and, for the NHS, a very expensive one. 

    "The eight basic gluten-free staples advised for people with coeliac disease are all cheaper from a supermarket than the NHS price. This is a scandal.

    "If we stopped prescribing gluten-free products tomorrow GPs would shout for joy and the NHS would stop being ripped off."

    There’s one particular point in the above that I would like to call attention to – the comparison in price between supermarket varieties and those supplied by the NHS. To give an example, the NHS currently pays up to £6.73 for a 500g bag of gluten-free pasta, while an equivalent product would cost just £1.20 at some supermarkets. Say what you will about the rest of his comments, but I whole-heartedly agree with him in describing that particular detail as a ‘scandal’.

    Last year, gluten-free prescriptions cost the NHS a total of £25.7 million, although it is worth noting that this accounts for just 0.3% of the NHS’ annual prescribing budget. Now I’m not saying that this alone validates the arguments made by Dr Cave, but if the price comparisons between supermarkets and the NHS are accurate, then there is no reason for this bill to be so high.

    However, as neither a medical professional nor a person with any first-hand experience of, or any connection to, coeliac disease, I feel I am perhaps not the best placed to make the counter-argument. For that, I direct you to the statements of Jake Johnson, father to 4-year-old coeliac sufferer Amelia Johnson. As reported by the Bristol Post, Mr Johnson’s views differ greatly from those of Dr Cave:

    "I think it is important for coeliac sufferers to be able to get food prescriptions, especially for the elderly and vulnerable.

    "From my research, there seems to be a belief that the prescriptions should be scrapped because they are not a medicine directly designed to treat a disease. But coeliac sufferers still need to eat carbohydrates and if they are not given access to the correct types of staples they may be confused about what they can eat prompting them to choose the wrong foods and making themselves ill.

    "In addition, coeliac disease is not a preventable illness so it feels wrong to penalise people for something they have no control of, while the NHS continues to treat people for illnesses and disorders caused by lifestyle choices."

    He also questioned Dr Cave’s belief that scrapping gluten-free food subscriptions would save the NHS money. Focusing on the long term, he said, "Coeliac sufferers who don't eat the correct foods can put themselves at risk of long term health problems including bowel cancer which will put more pressure on the NHS at a later date."

    So, which side of the debate do you fall on?

    Should we stop treating such foods as medicine, as Dr Cave believes? Or do you side with Mr Johnson & little Amelia? Let us know in the comments below.


    Sam Bonson

    Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.
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