Decision on future prescribing of gluten-free food in Bradford

NHS Bradford City and NHS Bradford Districts clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have recommended that GPs no longer prescribe gluten-free products.

This decision was reached following a public consultation on prescribing gluten-free food, which took place from July to September this year. The CCGs’ joint clinical board (JCB) made the decision to go ahead with one of the proposals from the consultation: to recommend and support GPs to stop providing gluten-free food on prescription.

During the consultation over 500 responses were received from a wide range of people, including many living with coeliac disease. This feedback, together with clinical evidence and financial information, was considered carefully by the JCB.

For more than 30 years, the NHS has prescribed gluten-free foods like bread, flour, cereal and pasta for people with coeliac disease. This policy was created at a time when gluten-free foods were not as readily available as they are today. In recent years, the range of gluten-free products has increased dramatically, with most supermarkets now stocking a wide range of these items.

However, the NHS is still spending £25m a year to provide gluten-free products on prescription. In Bradford, the total annual spend is around £320,000. With an increasing demand for services, the NHS must look at all the products and services and make decisions about what services to expand and what to reduce.

Dr Akram Khan and Dr Andy Withers, clinical chairs of Bradford City and Bradford Districts CCGs, respectively, said: “We would like to thank people for taking part in the consultation and giving such excellent feedback. This has been a hard decision which we have certainly not taken lightly; we know this will affect many people with coeliac disease who have received gluten-free food on prescription for a long time.

“However, it is a fact that the NHS has to pay four times more than a customer would, to buy an equivalent gluten-free product. We hope that patients will support us in recognising that this is not an efficient use of NHS funds.”

To help patients in maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, the charity Coeliac UK publishes an annual list of naturally gluten-free foods – rice, potatoes, fruit, vegetables, and more – which can be included in a regular grocery shop. More information about the 2016 directory can be found here

The CCGs reviewed the gluten-free policy as part of an overall NHS programme known as QIPP – quality, innovation, productivity and prevention – which is all about making sure that each pound spent brings maximum benefit and quality of care to patients.