Norfolk coeliac sufferers will no longer get gluten-free food on prescription

News; Photograph Simon Parker 2/4/2010; Examples of the Gluten Free food at Southwold Pier; MyPhoto

News; Photograph Simon Parker 2/4/2010; Examples of the Gluten Free food at Southwold Pier; MyPhotos24 Ref - SP 010 Gluten Free 2 - Credit: Archant

Cash-strapped health bosses have announced plans to cut gluten-free products from patients' prescriptions in a bid to make savings.

Julia Guy, group organiser of Norfolk and Norwich Coeliac Group

Julia Guy, group organiser of Norfolk and Norwich Coeliac Group - Credit: Archant

The move would make the majority of Norfolk the largest area in England where the products, currently prescribed to people with coeliac disease, would not be provided by the NHS.

Spokesmen for local and national coeliac support groups have opposed the plans, warning those affected would be at risk of developing more serious health conditions later in life at greater expense to the NHS.

The plans have been announced by Norwich and South Norfolk clinical commissioning groups (CCG).

And the EDP understands West Norfolk CCG are in the process of drawing up plans to follow suit.

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A spokesman for West Norfolk CCG said it was reviewing 'all aspects of its prescribing budget.'

Cutting the prescriptions would save Norwich CCG £93,000 per year, and NHS England an extra £150,000.

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Sheila Glenn, chief nurse and director of quality, strategy, and innovation at Norwich CCG, said: 'While we understand people who are used to receiving gluten-free food on prescription will be disappointed, we believe this is a fair and equitable decision.

'Other patient groups who need special diets, such as diabetics, do not receive free food on prescription.

'During informal discussions with the GP Practices in Norwich, the CCG received support for the proposal.'

In July North Norfolk became the first CCG in the country to stop prescribing gluten-free products, and Great Yarmouth and Waveney CCG have restricted the amounts prescribed.

There are around 1,000 coeliacs in Norfolk.

Julia Guy, organiser of Norfolk and Norwich Coeliac Group, said she was 'very worried' about the effect on elderly and poor people living with the disease.

'Gluten-free products are three to four times more expensive than normal food', she said.

'Many coeliacs can't just pop to their corner shops and buy the products because they don't stock them.'

'It's a particular issue for people living in rural areas.'

Sarah Sleet, chief executive of Coeliac UK, said: 'The decision is being based on budgets rather than patient need.

'Research has shown that keeping to the gluten-free diet is greatly improved with the support of prescriptions for gluten-free staple foods, particularly for the most vulnerable who cannot afford expensive gluten-free foods.

'Coeliac UK believes that the provision of gluten-free staple food on prescription is a vital element of the support offered by NHS England to these patients.'

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