Gluten free food on NHS prescription

Updated prescribing guidance for gluten free products

We want to help busy local GPs by freeing up more of their time to see patients and to ensure there are sufficient funds for them to prescribe medications that are not generally available over the counter.  With limited NHS budgets and the growing cost of medicines, this is becoming increasingly difficult to do.

In July 2017 following engagement with GPs, patients and stakeholders, local guidance came into effect regarding NHS prescribing of gluten free foods recommending that patients less than 18 years of age should be able to receive a limited range of gluten free bread, flour, multipurpose flour mixes and pasta on NHS prescription. Patients aged 18 years and over should no longer receive gluten free products on prescription.  This decision was aimed at encouraging people to buy gluten free items from shops and online, rather than ask their GP to prescribe them. 

Engagement resulted in a spectrum of views:

  • some people and organisations did not want options to be limited - 70% of 572 respondents to the public survey said removing all gluten free items from prescription would have a significant impact on their health and wellbeing.
  • some questioned whether the NHS should fund items which were not medicinal and arguably not essential – less than 1% of the North, East and West Devon population has the gluten intolerance condition known as Coeliac Disease.  In 2015-16 we spent £560,000 on NHS prescribed gluten free foods.
  • some fully supported the approach and felt it was reasonable - 93% of the 175 local GPs that completed a survey felt the gluten free prescribing policy should be reviewed and gluten free foods on NHS prescription should not be so freely available.

In response to feedback, we chose a recommendation that only partially limits gluten free foods on NHS prescription and advised GPs accordingly.

On 4th December 2018, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) introduced a national restriction that will allow only gluten free breads and multipurpose mixes to be prescribed in England.  Full details of the changes are available in the consultation response document which is available on the DHSC website

Local prescribing guidance in Devon continues to recommend that patients aged 18 years and over do not receive prescriptions for gluten free products.  Patients under 18 years of age are able to receive only gluten free bread and mixes on prescription due to the legal changes which were introduced from December 2018.

A link to the Healthwatch Devon patient and public report showing survey results related to gluten free prescribing is below, along with further information and support.

Common questions and answers Advice on choosing the right NHS service and how to self-care Information about medicines, treatments and prescribing How to contact us if you have a concern about how this guidance affects you Healthwatch Devon Gluten Free Prescribing Report

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