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Concern as NHS help for coeliacs slashed

A Catholic society has insisted that all coeliacs should have practical access to a gluten-free diet.

The call comes as a new study found the rate of prescribing gluten-free foods is ‘rapidly declining’.

Researchers examined the rate of prescriptions for such foods across England and found a significant drop between 2012/13 and 2016/17.

The prescription of gluten-free foods is a ‘controversial issue’, the experts from the University of Oxford said.

Sticking to a gluten-free diet is the only effective treatment for coeliac disease and such prescribing may be associated with better adherence to such diets.
A consultation was launched last year on the continued prescription of gluten-free foods on the NHS in England.

Following the consultation, the Government announced that gluten-free prescribing would be restricted to bread and flour mixes.

However, Mike Spreitzer, of the Catholic Celiac Society, based in the US, said many coeliacs had expressed concern over this decision and recommended a review to see whether the reduced prescribing had a significant impact on the ingestion of gluten.

“I think that all coeliacs should have practical access to a gluten-free diet, as that is the only way to manage coeliac disease,” Mr Spreitzer told The Universe. “Certainly that would be the Christian position, and I would hope it is a stated goal of the NHS.”

In the latest study, the researchers set out to examine prescribing practices by looking at information from GP surgeries across England.

Their analysis, published in the journal BMJ Open, found that there were 1.3 million gluten-free prescriptions between July 2016 and June 2017, down from 1.8 million in 2012/2013, with a corresponding cost reduction from £25.4 million to £18.7 million. They also found ‘substantial variation’ in prescribing rates; in some GP practices there were no prescriptions while in others, there were 148 per every 1,000 patients.

These variation rates could be driven by differences in prescribing policies by different local health bodies, or clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).

‘CCG policies range from following national guidelines (which recommend prescribing of staple foods) to a partial or complete withdrawal of prescriptions,’ the authors wrote.

They found that GP practices in the poorest areas were less likely to prescribe such foods than those in more affluent places, possibly due to lower rates of diagnosed coeliac disease in more deprived groups.

The authors added: ‘Although gluten-free foods are perceived to be becoming cheaper and more widely available, they remain more expensive than budget wheat-containing options – on average five times greater – and it is argued that vulnerable populations may struggle to source appropriate foods for their condition without prescriptions.’

Picture: Gluten free cakes and bread. (Richard B. Levine/SIPA PA).