The consultation follows NHS England’s announcement this week of new guidance on the prescription of low value items such as travel vaccines, painkillers, and gluten-free (GF) foods.
It will consider ending the prescription of all gluten-free foods in primary care, with estimates suggesting this could save £25.7 million a year for the health service. An additional £10 million could be saved through patients no longer needing to attend GP appointments in order to get their gluten-free prescriptions.
Currently, staple gluten-free foods such as bread, flour and pasta are available on prescription to patients diagnosed with gluten sensitivity. Gluten-free foods have been given on prescription to these patients since the late 1960s when it was less easy to buy them. But gluten-free foods are now sold in many supermarkets and a wider range of naturally GF food types is also available.
Evidence from clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) has also shown that the NHS pays much more than the consumer for the same gluten-free products.
Health minister, Lord O’Shaughnessy said:
The NHS is one of the most efficient health services in the world, but we need to do more to ensure we get the best possible value for taxpayers’ money. Changing the way we prescribe gluten-free food could make an important contribution to saving the NHS millions of pounds a year.
Many clinical commissioning groups have already stopped providing gluten free foods on prescription. Norwich and North Norfolk CCGs decided to end prescribing of GF foods, except in exceptional circumstances. Spend on gluten-free prescribing fell from £400,000 in 2015 to 2016, to just £21,000, making more money available for other treatments.
Norfolk CCG reported no negative feedback on the decision, with their patients saying they didn’t have any problems accessing gluten-free foods since the ending of prescriptions. The decision in Norfolk was also well received by GPs, and by members of the public, who were often surprised to hear that gluten-free food had ever been available on NHS prescription.
Differing approaches to prescribing GF foods has created variation across CCGs. The consultation looks at a new, national approach, creating consistency in gluten-free prescribing across the country.