People in south Staffordshire are to be asked for their view on the availability of some foods on the NHS.
Currently the NHS across Stafford, Cannock Chase, Lichfield, Tamworth, East Staffordshire and South Staffordshire spends more than £280,000 per year on gluten free (GF) alternative foods for people who have coeliac disease and related gluten intolerances. This requires GPs to write more than 16,000 prescriptions.
A survey that begins on Monday January 6 and lasts for five weeks is seeking to find whether the public thinks this is still the best use of NHS resources at a time of funding pressures.
Gluten is found predominantly in wheat, barley, rye and oats. It means bread, biscuits, cake, pasta and other food containing these ingredients makes people with coeliac disease unwell, with symptoms including abdominal pain and bloating.
GF alternatives do not cure coeliac disease or treat the symptoms.
Dr Paddy Hannigan, local GP and Chair of Stafford and Surrounds Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “Historically the NHS began prescribing GF alternatives because they were very expensive, hard to find in shops and it was thought it was difficult to have a balanced diet without foods such as bread. This is not the case anymore.
“You can have a perfectly balanced diet by eating food without gluten like meat, fish, rice, potatoes, vegetables and fruits.
“GF alternatives are now also widely available and more affordable, with most larger supermarkets having GF sections.”
The availability of GF alternatives on prescription is now restricted in many areas of the country following the publication of national guidance.
Dr Hannigan added: “Many people have intolerances to different foods, with nut allergies having a particularly high profile. The standard advice is to avoid food that makes you unwell.
“There are also many patients, like those with diabetes, who have to follow strict dietary guidelines. They benefit from dietary advice available from the NHS but do not get any extra support with following their diet.”
There is a wealth of free advice available now about how to eat well and affordably without gluten.
The charity Coeliac UK advises that “a gluten free life is the only treatment for your condition” and has developed a free app that helps people live well gluten free.
The proposed policy advises GPs to prescribe gluten-free bread and flour mixes only for children and adolescents under the age of 18 diagnosed with coeliac disease, other gluten-related enteropathy or dermatitis herpetiformis.
This policy already applies in North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent.
The survey runs until midnight on Sunday February 9 and can be found using this link. Findings will then be analysed before being presented to the CCGs’ Governing Bodies later in the year for a decision.