GLUTEN-FREE food prescriptions could soon be axed.

Two south Essex clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have now launched a consultation on the issue.

There are currently around 700 coeliac patients receiving prescribed food in the Southend, Castle Point and Rochford areas, but cutting the service could save the CCGs about £180,000 a year.

The CCG today launched a 20-day consultation, with responses invited from all members of the public, not just those affected by wheat-intolerances.

Simon Williams, head of medicine management at Southend CCG, said: “We are looking to review everything we spend our money on and this is one of the areas we are considering.

“Across the patch we spend £180,000 a year on the prescription food such as bread, pizza bases, pasta, biscuits and cake mixes.

“We might stop all prescriptions but we want to stress that this is only a consultation at this stage.

“Others have stopped already, in north Essex they are restricted quite severely and in mid Essex they have just recommended stopping all prescriptions, so the issue is in the spotlight across the county and we have decided to see where we go with it.”

The CCG claims, were they to stop prescriptions, that the decision would be fair due to them not offering prescription food for other patients requiring a specific diet, such as diabetics.

The commissioner also feels that removing the paperwork for GPs, who have to sign off a patients’ weekly prescription of gluten-free food, will free up time for other duties.

Mr Williams added: “We do not believe it will have a detrimental effect on patients’ health.

“We started doing this around 30 years ago when there was little or no alternative in the supermarket, but nowadays every big shop has an aisle of gluten free.

“The NHS spends about £25million a year on prescribing gluten-free food so if that stops then hopefully it will improve the market for people in supermarkets because they will be fighting to get a bit of that £25million.”

What is coeliac disease?

  • A common digestive condition where a person has an adverse reaction to gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye.
  • Symptoms can include diarrhoea, bloating and flatulence, abdominal pain, weight loss, feeling tired all the time through malnutrition, children not growing at expected rate.
  • A patient can be prescribed gluten-free food if they have received a coeliac diagnosis by an NHS professional.
  • Those on prescription food generally receive around 18 items (a loaf of bread, packet of pasta etc.) per month, which are provided by a pharmacist.
  • Women in the third trimester of pregnancy, or those breastfeeding, receive more than 18 items due to their increased nutritional requirement.
  • Prescription foods are not free of charge, unless you qualify for free prescriptions anyway, but they are cheaper than supermarket alternatives.


Sue Hems, who introduced gluten free pizzas to her business

A COELIAC sufferer has condemned the Clinical Commissioning Groups’ decision to potentially scrap prescription food.

Sue Hems, 50, of Rock It Inflatables, in Lascelles Gardens, Rochford, was diagnosed eight years ago and has found it hard to adjust to a gluten free lifestyle.

In 2011, when she owned Rockit Pizza and Grill, in Rayleigh, she introduced gluten free pizzas to the menu and said the move was welcomed by fellow coeliacs.

She said: “I do not agree with them doing away with prescriptions.

“It is easy enough to get hold of gluten free food in the supermarket now, but it is the cost that is prohibitive, having it available on prescription certainly helps.

“It has been hard to adapt but I can get by, but it is expensive being gluten free.

“It is wishful thinking from the CCGs if they think them cancelling prescriptions will bring supermarket prices down – it is just a cost cutting measure for the NHS.

“There is not enough of a demand for it in the supermarkets so their prices will stay high.

“Restaurants are starting to bring in gluten free menus now at similar prices and that’s great, but supermarkets just don’t bring their prices down.”

Printed copies of the consultation, which runs until March 22, are available on request from the CCGs and the survey can be taken at

The CCGs are also contacting patient groups, local charities and healthwatch organisations, as well as Coeliac UK, about promoting the consultation.