NHS 'paid £17 for gluten-free pizza base'

 
Pizza Handling charges mean the NHS is paying four times the price for pizza bases

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Two prescription gluten-free pizza bases can cost the NHS as much as £34, BBC Newsnight has learned.

The NHS spent £27m on gluten-free prescriptions in 2011, but handling and delivery charges, which can quadruple the cost, are not recorded.

Coeliac disease sufferers can develop serious illnesses if they eat gluten.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said prescriptions encouraged sufferers to stick to gluten-free diets but that the area was "under ongoing review".

"The aim of providing gluten-free food products on NHS prescription is to encourage patients with coeliac disease to stick to a gluten-free, nutritious diet so they do not go on to develop more serious illnesses, which can affect their quality of life as well as being much more costly for the NHS," he said in a statement.

"However, we keep this area of prescribing under ongoing review and are currently considering how we might get better value from the prescribing of gluten-free products whilst ensuring patients continue to get the products they need."

Gluten-free bread, cake mixes and bourbon biscuits are also available to people with coeliac disease, an auto-immune disease, which is triggered by eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye.

In an example from Rotherham, it was discovered that the NHS had been paying four times the original price for pizza bases.

Start Quote

Geoff Martin

This is a lifetime complaint. When you've got it there is no cure for it”

End Quote Geoff Martin, who has coeliac disease

The two pizza bases originally cost £8.95. But by the time manufacturing, handling and delivery fees were added on, the bill for the NHS had been driven up to nearly £34.00.

Another example comes from Dr Fayyaz Choudri, a GP who was responsible for overhauling gluten-free prescriptions in Allerdale, Cumbria.

"We saw there were occasions where there was a bread loaf costing £2.50 and there was a handling fee of £32.00," he says.

Dr Choudri has coeliac disease himself and knows the importance of a gluten-free diet.

Without it, symptoms can range from digestive disorders to very serious illnesses including osteoporosis and bowel cancer.

Geoff Martin is one of a growing number of people in the UK diagnosed with the disease.

"This is a lifetime complaint. When you've got it there is no cure for it," he says.

The condition is triggered by an intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye - and therefore a common ingredient in many processed foods.

Gluten-free foods Gluten-free biscuits and cakes are currently available on NHS prescription

"The only solution to it," Geoff continues, "is eating food that is gluten free."

Living as he does in rural Oxfordshire, this is a problem. In order to guarantee a varied and balanced diet, Geoff relies on his prescriptions for gluten-free food.

Geoff's NHS trust is one of many now reviewing its policy on gluten-free food.

With an estimated one in 100 people affected by gluten intolerance, campaigners want the NHS to continue providing staple foods like bread and pasta.

These are increasingly available in shops, along with a wide range of gluten-free products. But they are often much more expensive than regular foods.

Coeliac UK, which represents sufferers, worries that the hidden costs of prescriptions (which patients pay for, unless they have other conditions which qualify them for free scripts) is giving the whole system a bad name.

Allergy advice label on food product Coeliac disease leads to tiredness, anaemia, weight loss, diarrhoea and constipation

Newsnight contacted one of the leading manufacturers of gluten-free food, Juvela. They blamed wholesalers for adding "extra charges, sometimes adding a £20 handling charge to a £3 loaf".

This is questioned by the British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers, which represents some of the biggest companies.

They told us they would be "keen to investigate any relevant cases of alleged poor standards or distribution practice."

To try to safeguard prescriptions, Coeliac UK has drawn up guidelines for NHS trusts on what sort of items should be prescribed - recommending that biscuits and cake mixes should only be given in "exceptional circumstances."

But Newsnight has contacted five trusts which say they have not passed on the guidelines, and that cakes and biscuits are still available on prescription.

With NHS budgets under relentless pressure, these are increasingly being seen as rations the NHS cannot afford.

Watch Liz MacKean's full report on gluten-free prescriptions on Thursday 24 May at 22:30 BST on BBC Two, then afterwards on the BBC iPlayer and Newsnight website.

 

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  • rate this
    +16

    Comment number 544.

    I am concerned about the message the NHS are sending out to the public by prescribing pizza, cake and biscuits in this age of ever increasing obesity. These are not essential items. Perhaps some simple dietary advice, together with some kind of small allowance for additional costs incurred for basic food stuffs such as bread, by way of vouchers to be spent in shops would be a better solution.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 110.

    For people to say Ceoliacs should go and buy there own food from supermarkets, do you know how much it costs for four breadrolls? £3.50, compared to how much normal bread costs its a bit of a rip off dont you think?. I didnt choose to be a Ceoliac and I want to be as healthy as I can and since I work full time and I pay my National Insurance, why shouldnt I get help and get food on prescription?

  • rate this
    +34

    Comment number 52.

    I'm recently diagnosed and it's cost me a fortune trying out the options to find something vaguely palatable. At £2.50 a small loaf that is stale within 24 hrs it's not cheap and being coeliac isn't a lifestyle choice it's essential. BUT it seems beyond the wit of man for our pharmacy to co-ordinate orders and deliveries to reduce the delivery costs - only in the public sector could this happen

  • rate this
    +81

    Comment number 26.

    Why is food being prescribed? Everyone needs to buy food and most supermarkets these days have a range of gluten free products. Why can those with gluten intolerance not simply buy gluten free products instead of ordinary ones in the same way as someone allergic to strawberries avoids products containing strawberries? And who "needs" biscuits anyway? This should be stopped.

  • rate this
    +88

    Comment number 13.

    prescription for pizza? seriously? not trying to belittle the condition but the sufferers must be able to help themselves more surely? i found many gluten free recipes just by googling. shop wisely and it doesnt have to be expensive either....

 

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