An article has been published in Drug and Therapeutics bulletin questioning the need for gluten-free prescriptions in patients with coeliac disease.
Call to scrap gluten-free food prescriptions (BBC news)
End gluten-free handouts (The ever level-headed and not at all hysterical Daily Mail)
You can read Coeliac UK’s statement here (links to pdf).
Now I currently do no get any food on prescription because:
a) the debacle that was my “diagnosis” left me in such a state that when they finally told me I had to eat gluten for 6 weeks to tell me what I already knew I said, “No way”. The only downside was that the doctors would not be 100% sure, and that I wouldn’t get prescription food. I took my chances.
b) I have no need for it. I live within walking distance of a large Tesco and a Waitrose, and could have my pick of Sainsbury’s, Asda etc within a couple of miles, not to mention the Asian/Korean supermarkets which populate the area. Plus, the only “gluten-free” food I buy regularly is a packet of pasta – occasionally some bread or flour. For two of us on a gluten-free diet our weekly shop comes to under £40.
The problem is, it’s not just middle class people who know how to cook who get coeliac disease. There are people who live in more rural and isolated areas, where availability of gluten-free products is meagre. Have you ever tried to buy a FreeFrom product in an “Express” store? It’s touch and go at best. If that was your only option for miles, I can see how a prescription would be invaluable.
Not to mention those for whom bread products form a large part of their diet. I don’t personally eat a lot of bread any more, but there are people who were brought up with scones, teacakes, crumpets, toast, sandwiches, rolls at every turn. To eat that same diet would be prohibitively expensive, because gluten-free bread products ARE a lot more expensive than their gluteny counterparts.
Then there are those who don’t eat a lot of bread but have relied on ready meals and oven food, particularly the “value” ranges which offer very low prices. You can get 10 Tesco Value Fish fingers for £0.65, the same amount with gluten-free breadcrumbs is around £1.99 (on 14 Feb, when doing price research for this product, Tesco’s gf fishfingers weren’t available online, so the price is an estimate).
But I’m sure they’ll both contain seahorse.
Anyway, the important thing to remember is that:
- A gluten-free diet is the only cure for coeliac disease
- Left untreated, coeliac disease can cause serious (and expensive) complications, so a gluten-free diet should count as “preventative medicine”
The problem with these articles is that there are many people who believe that this is some sort of “handout”, rather than the treatment that will prevent further illness. However, I think that there is good reason to overhaul the prescription system in favour of vouchers, if such a scheme can be made to work.
It would cut out the middle man, saving the NHS money and saving GP/Pharmacy resources.
It would give consumers more choice about what they can eat and what brands they wish to buy.
It would also support smaller gluten-free companies who are not currently available on prescription.
Overhauling the system is not necessarily a bad thing, if people are given the support they need. The important thing is recognising that different people need different sorts of support, that some people need no support, and that the cost of any support they provide is offset by the prevention of serious diseases further down the line.