On 28th March, Kevan urged health ministers to retain gluten-free prescriptions on the NHS, following reports that NHS Clinical Commissioners were planning to recommend that the Government reduce spending on some prescription items.
Evidence submitted to NHS England - and seen by the BBC - argues that the prescribing of gluten-free products dates back to the 1960s when there was not the choice there is now in supermarkets and shops.
But Coeliac UK, the charity that represents coeliac disease sufferers, warned that many budget and convenience stores, which are relied upon by the most vulnerable such as the elderly, those with disabilities and on low incomes, have virtually no provision. Further, the cost of gluten free substitute staples, like bread, can be up to six times the cost as their gluten-containing equivalents. This means that vulnerable people are disproportionately affected the most by this proposed change.
In November 2016, Kevan held a Westminster Hall debate to raise awareness of the current situation facing those suffering from coeliac disease and their access to gluten-free food prescriptions. During this debate, the Minister noted that Clinical Commissioning Groups may not be getting it right when it came to cutting gluten free prescribing, and committed to reviewing the situation, with a focus on ending the current postcode lottery for treatment support.
Coeliac disease affects 1 in 100 people in the UK, but under-diagnosis is a big problem and research suggests around 500,000 people have not yet been diagnosed.
Coeliac disease is a serious medical condition where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues when gluten is eaten and, currently, the only medical treatment available is strict adherence to a gluten-free diet for life.
Since the late 1960s certain gluten-free food has been prescribed to those diagnosed with coeliac disease to prevent long term health complications, but this rationale is now being challenged by NHS Clinical Commissioners, under pressure to save money, despite their position lacking supporting evidence.
The annual cost of gluten-free food on prescription to NHS England was £25.7m in 2015. This was just 0.3% of the total prescribing budget of the NHS. Put another way, the cost to the NHS of maintaining gluten-free food prescriptions works out at £194 per patient per year.
Kevan is calling on the Government to consider this issue and maintain a minimum level of access, across England, to support people with coeliac disease who require a strict gluten free diet for life. This type of support helps patients with the cost burden of the gluten free diet and ensures they are able to maintain their treatment. Gluten-free prescriptions are particularly important for vulnerable patients, as highlighted in the NICE Quality Standard for Coeliac Disease, published in October 2016.
The NHS Scotland operates a National Gluten-Free Food Service, which is a pharmacy-led scheme based on pilots conducted in England before the NHS reorganisation.
Speaking in response to reports Kevan said:
“What NHS Clinical Commissioners are proposing is a false economy, because one hospital admission for a complication like osteoporosis, will cost more than the annual cost of prescriptions for an individual who adheres to a gluten-free diet.”
“Neither have they outlined policies that offer alternatives to safeguard patients, such as access to specialist dietary or nutritional advice, when a coeliac patient is taken out of the NHS’ responsibility because their gluten-free food prescription has been withdrawn.”
You can read or watch the Kevan’s November 2016 debate in full by clicking on the links below:
EARLY DAY MOTION
Kevan will tabling an EDM calling on the Government to maintain gluten-free prescriptions:
That this House recognises that people with coeliac disease, for whom the only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet for life, must have access to gluten-free prescriptions to maintain their health; notes that without access to prescriptions, the most vulnerable people, those on low incomes, the elderly and those with mobility problems will suffer most as confirmed by independent research; and considers that the potential health risk to patients, including osteoporosis, infertility, and cancer of the small bowel, may cost the NHS more in the long run; calls for the maintenance of gluten-free prescriptions on the NHS and; further calls for the consideration of a national gluten-free prescribing scheme for England and renewed efforts to improve recognition of coeliac disease by primary care health services.