Gluten-free prescriptions limited to breads and mixes

Biscuits, cakes and flours will no longer be available on prescription in England in a shake-up of health regulations.

From 4 December, only gluten-free breads and bread mixes can be prescribed following a consultation by the Department of Health and Social Care. Biscuits, cereals, cooking aids, grains/flours and pasta will be removed from the list of approved products.

The decision does not affect gluten-free prescribing for patients in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Gluten-free foods have been prescribed to patients diagnosed with conditions including coeliac disease since the late 1960s, when the availability of gluten-free foods was limited. The department said it was now much easier for patients to purchase gluten-free foods online or in supermarkets.

The department’s consultation received 932 responses from respondents, including charities, clinical commissioning groups, health professionals, patients and professional associations.

Pharmacists and patients told the department that large orders of gluten-free bread often went to waste due to lack of storage in the patient’s home, or non-collection of the order from the pharmacy.

Some respondents said the quality of gluten-free bread they received on prescription was better than that available to purchase and were often fortified with additional nutrients that compensated for their restricted diet.

They also said a variety of breads should be available on prescription, and the new list of approved products should include white, brown, high-fibre and seeded loaves in addition to rolls and baguettes.

Charity Coeliac UK, which responded to the consultation, said it believed the government had made a “reasonable decision at a time when the NHS in England is facing significant financial challenges”.

“The work undertaken by the Department of Health and Social Care has recognised the need for patients with coeliac disease to have ongoing support to manage their condition, and they have paid attention to the evidence we have put forward about the cost, availability and nutritional contribution of gluten-free staples in managing a gluten-free diet,” it added.

Products that are ‘gluten free and low protein’ or ‘low protein’ and prescribed for phenylketonuria, are not covered by the changes.

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