PRESCRIPTIONS for gluten-free food could be scrapped, sparking criticism from the coeliac community.

The Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) for Southend, and Castle Point and Rochford, are in the middle of a public consultation on the subject.

Currently anyone who has been diagnosed by the NHS with coeliac disease is entitled to gluten-free food on prescription.

Patients still have to pay, but the prescribed food is cheaper than alternatives which can be bought in supermarkets.

While the proposal has outraged the people it will directly affect, not everyone is against it.

Krishna Chaturvedi, a GP at the Southbourne Grove surgery, in Westcliff, said opinion is divided amongst his patients.

He said: “This is a very debatable argument.

“I can understand people wanting it on prescription but I have also had one patient come in and say they wouldn’t mind if the prescriptions were cancelled", he said.

“There will always be positives and negatives but we do have to save money and the CCGs have looked into the impact of it and found it not to be a risk.”

Between the two CCGs, around 700 coeliac patients would be affected if prescriptions were scrapped, with the NHS saving around £180,000 a year.

James Moyies, Southend councillor for health and adult social care, said: “The NHS in Essex is going to be £200million in the red each year if things don’t change.

“We are going to see more and more rationalising of services and changes of services as the NHS cannot keep up with doing everything.

“There is quite a lot of gluten-free food available now from normal shops.

“I am not qualified enough to know if it is the best way to save money for CCGs and the NHS, but it is clearly worth looking into, and that is why they are doing this consultation.”

Research from the CCGs showed that there was no evidence of patients receiving gluten-free food on prescription being more likely to stick to a gluten-free diet, or having better health outcomes, than those who do not.

The groups claim that as a protein, gluten is not essential and can be replaced by other foods.

They hope that if prescriptions are scrapped it will bring the price of gluten-free food down in supermarkets as it will increase competition.

Castle Point councillor for health and wellbeing, Bill Dick, said: “I think there is adequate evidence that people are providing their own groceries from the supermarket, who give a greater variety to the users.

“This also provides greater user choice, as and when they need it. The money saved on prescriptions can now be provided for patient care across the board.”


A NATIONAL charity set up to support coeliac sufferers has hit out at the proposed cuts to gluten-free prescriptions.

Coeliac UK is concerned the cuts will leave vulnerable patients without support, affecting their ability to stick to a gluten-free diet, the only treatment for coeliac disease.

Long-term effects of not maintaining a gluten-free diet include osteoporosis (brittle bones), unexplained infertility and, in rare cases, small intestine cancer.

Coeliac UK believes scrapping prescription food will cost the NHS more money in the long run.

Sarah Sleet, chief executive of Coeliac UK, said: “The suggestion to remove gluten-free prescription services for everyone of all ages, regardless of circumstances, with coeliac disease is being based on budgets rather than patient need.

“The provision of gluten-free staple food on prescription is a vital element of the support offered to these patients by the NHS and it is essential to prevent long term damage to health.”

Around 70 per cent of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) across the country still offer gluten-free food prescriptions, but that figure is falling.

The Mid Essex CCG has already cut the amount of gluten-free food being prescribed to patients with coeliac disease, and late last year launched its own consultation on scrapping prescriptions altogether.

The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) estimates the cost to the NHS of gluten-free food to be just under £200 a year, per patient.

Ms Sleet added: “For someone medically diagnosed with coeliac disease there is no choice but to stick to a gluten-free diet, day in day out for life, and so access to gluten-free staples is critical, but not as easy as you might think.

“The expansion of Free From aisles in large supermarkets masks the reality of very patchy provision. In particular, small stores and budget supermarkets have little, if any, gluten-free staples.

“What’s more, prices make such products unaffordable for some.

“Both these issues put the most needy at risk – those on a limited budget or with limited mobility.”


  • COELIAC disease is a long-term condition that affects approximately one per cent of people in the UK.
  • It is a lifelong, serious autoimmune disease caused by the immune system reacting to gluten.
  • This damages the surface of the small bowel (intestines), disrupting the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food.
  • The only way to reverse this damage is to remove gluten from the diet.
  • Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye.
  • Symptoms can include diarrhoea, bloating and flatulence, abdominal pain, weight loss, and feeling tired all the time through malnutrition. Children with coeliac disease do not grow at the expected rate.
  • A patient can currently be prescribed gluten-free food if they have received a coeliac diagnosis by an NHS professional.
  • Those on prescription food receive, depending on age, around 18 units, including a loaf of bread, or 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 units due to their increased nutritional requirement.
  • Prescription foods are not free of charge, unless you qualify for free prescriptions anyway, but are cheaper than supermarket alternatives.



Jane Attwell

A COELIAC sufferer has labelled plans to scrap prescriptions for gluten-free food a "disgrace."

Despite not using prescriptions herself, Jane Attwell, 57, from Leigh, believes their should be more support available for people with the disease, not less.

She said: "It would be a disgrace if they got rid of the free prescriptions.

“I personally do not use the prescription food and because I have an overactive thyroid gland I would not have to pay for them if I did, but I still would certainly not agree with the prescriptions being scrapped.

“I do not know anyone else who suffers from it but if there are 700 people across the CCGs who would be affected then that is a lot of people.

“I am 57 now and was only diagnosed ten years ago.

“I was anaemic and my GP did a blood test to see what was going on, I did not even know coeliac was a symptom but it turned out that that was what I had.

“Fortunately I did not suffer too many of the symptoms of coeliac disease and because I had been a vegetarian for so long I was used to being careful over what I ate but it is not the same for everyone.

“I choose to buy from the supermarkets but for families that might have a child, or more than one child, who is coeliac then it is definitely more expensive and there should be that option to get it on prescription.

“There should be more support for coeliacs in general, Coeliac UK do not have any groups in south Essex but people could do with cooking lessons and more advice about dealing with being a coeliac.

“There should be more support for us, not less.”


So they should scrap prescriptions, you can buy a wide range of products in supermarkets now to eat gluten free.

Dona Shand

Food shops provide gluten free foods, and it is widely available. Prescriptions should only be given to people on low incomes.

Caroline Smith

Gluten free food is only free if you don't pay for your prescriptions. My nephew pays £104 for a prepaid annual prescription so it's not exactly free!

Susan Otero

Coeliac disease is a long term health condition, you wouldn't agree to scrapping something that would keep someone alive.

Kimberley Jade Boland

A loaf of gluten free bread (a decent loaf) is £3 and is about half the size of a normal loaf. That's over six times the price. If I can't get Juvela flour on prescription it will cost me £10 a box, that's £10 for a loaf of bread.

I understand taking biscuits, pasta and cake mixes off prescrition, but not bread or flour. It will make bread and basic foods a luxury item for coeliacs.

Michael Dawson

I think they should do dairy free on prescription too, these foods are generally twice the price of normal food, it's not my fault I'm allergic to the stuff, why should I pay £1.50 for 2 pints of milk?

Susan Smith