The Berkshire West consortium of four clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) will scrap the routine prescribing of gluten-free products from prescriptions from February 2018, it confirmed in a statement on its website last month.
This applies to all patients in Reading, Wokingham and Newbury who “have received gluten-free foods as a prescription from [their] GP or through the community pharmacy scheme”, the CCGs said.
While the decision “was not taken lightly”, the groups said “it is often less expensive to buy gluten-free foods from supermarkets or online than what the NHS pays for these items on prescription”.
The CCGs advised coeliac patients that they “may find gluten-free items close to their best-before or use-by dates at a reduced price”, in supermarkets or shops.
“Most patients” not affected
Carol Trower, chief executive officer of Thames Valley LPC, said that despite its initial concerns about "inequality and inability to pay, and the impacts on health", the LPC understands the CCGs' decision.
“In an ideal world, the products would be available on prescription, but we realise that the NHS has limited funds and we are now in a state of prioritisation," she told C+D last week (December 14).
Since “most patients” in the “relatively affluent area” will be able to afford the products, the LPC “did not feel there would be a major impact on patients in general”, Ms Trower said.
GPs will still be able to “make a judgement call as to whether to prescribe or not” once the CCGs' decision comes into force in February, she added, but “I do think these cases will be rare”.
In a statement responding to the CCGs' decision, charity Coeliac UK said gluten-free products available on prescription are “particularly” important for “people on low incomes and those only able to shop in small convenience stores that do not stock staple gluten-free foods”.
“We are concerned that these measures will affect the ability of patients with coeliac disease to stick to the gluten-free diet and that this will result in an increase in the likelihood of complications of coeliac disease,” the charity said.
NHS England's prescription plans
Last month, NHS England announced that 18 treatments should be scrapped from prescriptions, including homeopathy, herbal remedies and fish oil. Gluten-free products were missing from the NHS England list, despite a recommendation from NHS Clinical Commissioners (NHSCC).
According to a C+D poll – which ran between May 16 and June 16 – 87% of 216 readers agree with NHSCC that gluten-free products should be removed from prescriptions.
In June, C+D hosted a roundtable – bringing together NHSCC co-chair Dr Jackson, Royal Pharmaceutical Society English board chair Sandra Gidley, Coeliac UK CEO Sarah Sleet, and London contractor and CEO of City and Hackney LPC Hitesh Patel – to discuss what the plans to scrap certain treatments from prescriptions could mean for pharmacists, patients, and the wider NHS.
Listen to the full debate in the podcast below.