Daily Mail targets NHS spend on gluten-free

  (Photo: Laurie Barrie )

A row has broken out over a reported £116m spend on prescription gluten-free food by the NHS, which included biscuits, doughnuts, muffin mixes and bread.

The Daily Mail published a story today, with the headline 'Doughnuts and pizzas on the NHS: £116million of gluten-free junk food was handed out in prescriptions in the past year.'

However, since the story broke, Sarah Sleet, chief executive of Coeliac UK has written to the paper asking for a correction saying that: "In 2014, £26.8m was spent on prescribed gluten-free products – not £116m quoted in the headline."

The paper said the health service was spending double the amount on prescription food products than it did a decade ago, and the cost was not covering handling fees of the goods, which it said could reach up to £40 an order.

Gluten-free food is currently prescribed to patients who suffer from coeliac disease at the discretion of doctors, but includes items such as jelly, cake mix and a variety of biscuits - items the Mail refers to as junk food.

Fayyaz Chaudhri, a GP who has overhauled gluten-free prescriptions in Cumbria, told the Daily Mail: “It should be stopped. It’s irresponsible and it’s leading to an obesity epidemic.

“There are plenty of gluten-free products people can buy in shops and many foods, such as fruit, are naturally gluten-free anyway.”

Coeliac UK said it was disappointed with the article. Sleet said in her letter to the paper: “The truth is that the NHS spends £27m on key staples for people with coeliac disease, such as bread and flour, to support this lifelong condition which can only be treated by a strict gluten-free diet. This equates to £180 per patient. 

"The article suggests that millions of pounds of NHS money is being spent on gluten-free cakes and sweet biscuits. There is no evidence to support this. The reality is that in many areas of the country many patients are struggling to get the limited amount of gluten-free staples set out in national guidance or having treatment services stopped altogether. 

"The number of those medically diagnosed with coeliac disease has increased by around 14% since 2009, while the cost of gluten-free food prescribing services has actually decreased by 3.5% over the same period.  This shows that the vast majority of people with coeliac disease, and those who treat and support them, use NHS resources both carefully and responsibly."

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