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The NHS Could Stop Prescribing Gluten-Free Food

As part of a new cost-cutting measure, doctors in England may no longer be able to provide coeliac patients with GF bread and cereals.
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB
Photo via Flickr user Vanessa Pike-Russell

If you've opened a newspaper or done even a cursory scroll through Twitter in recent months, you'll know that the National Health Service is up against some of the toughest funding issues in its 69-year history. Those in charge are desperately looking for ways to save money without jeopardising patient safety. A very big ask, indeed.

The latest of these money-saving measures was announced today by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens. In an interview with The Daily Mail, he warned that doctors may stop providing "low value" prescriptions for items that can be bought cheaply over-the-counter. This would include drugs such as paracetamol, heartburn tablets, cold medicine, and some travel vaccinations, as well as dietary items like omega-3 oil and gluten-free food. It is hoped to save the service £400 million a year.


Currently in most parts of the UK, patients diagnosed as coeliac can be prescribed gluten-free staple foods by their doctor. These are available in pharmacies and include things like bread, flour, and cereals.

However handing out NHS prescriptions for bread has been heavily criticised in the past, with many noting that the practice dates back to a time before the gluten-free fad, when items made with coeliac-friendly flour were not widely available in supermarkets. Nowadays, even the most archaic cornershop will stock a gluten-free loaf or two.

There have even been worries about the service being taken advantage of by non-coeliacs hoping for free baked goods. In 2015, The Daily Mail reported on one patient who had allegedly bulk-ordered NHS-prescribed gluten-free flour for an online cake business.

The NHS will launch a consultation with patient groups, clinicians, and pharmaceutical providers next month to decide exactly which prescription items are "ineffective, unnecessary, […] or indeed unsafe" and should no longer be prescribed.

Stevens told The Daily Mail that the review would help free up money to be spent on new drugs and treatments.

He said: "The NHS is a very efficient health service but like every country's health service there is inefficiency and waste. There's £114m being spent on medicine for upset tummies, haemorrhoids, travel sickness, indigestion, [and] that's before you get to the £22 million-plus on gluten-free that you can also now get at Morrisons, Lidl, or Tescos.

It is hoped that the new prescription guidelines will end up saving the NHS £400 million a year. That's a whole lot of GF bread rolls.