If your stay is unplanned
Do not presume that all hospital staff have heard about coeliac diseaseA condition where a person is unable to eat gluten as it makes their body attack itself.
or the gluten-freeWhen a food has less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten so it is safe for people with coeliac disease to eat.
diet. Knowledge of the diet may vary and unless they are a gastroenterologistA doctor who specialises in the digestive system.
or dietitianAn expert in food and nutrition.
they may not have a very good understanding of the condition.
If you have to go to hospital at short notice and your visit is not planned, you may have to wait a few days before they can provide you with specialist glutenA protein that is found in the cereals wheat, barley and rye.
-free foods such as gluten-free bread and crackers. Specialist gluten-free foods are probably not kept in stock so may have to be ordered in specially.
When choosing from the menu check with the ward housekeeper who should be able to show you which options can be included in your gluten-free diet. Some hospitals may highlight which meals can be included in your gluten-free diet on the menu and some even have a separate gluten-free menu. You may also see some dishes on a menu labelled with ‘no gluten containing ingredients’ or ‘NGCI’. This means that the meal does not have any ingredients containing gluten and it has been made with care taken to avoid contamination with gluten.
If a dietitian does not come to see you when you are first admitted ask if you can see one as it is often the dietitian who will order a meal for you.
Be aware that well meaning staff may get it wrong as they may not fully understand the gluten-free diet, for example they may add gravy which contains gluten to a ‘dry’ roast dinner that would otherwise be ok for you to eat.
If you are unsure if your meal is ok for you to eat check again with the ward housekeeper or member of nursing staff.
If your stay is planned
If your stay in hospital is planned, speak to the ward sister and / or hospital dietitian beforehand so they know that you need a gluten-free diet. Do not worry that this is ‘making a fuss’, the staff will be glad of the warning so they can be prepared. This should also give the catering team time to order in specialist gluten-free foods like bread and crackers.
To make sure that your stay goes smoothly, here are a few questions to ask beforehand:
- Do I need to see the hospital dietitian to make sure I can get meals and snacks that I can eat?
- Does the hospital have a gluten-free menu?
- Do I need to bring my own snacks with me?
Just in case
- Take supplies of gluten-free bread, biscuits and crackers with you. The hospital may not have any available straight away and you may want a snack in between meals.
- Take your Food and Drink DirectoryCoeliac UK’s key source of information listing thousands of foods that can be included in a gluten-free diet.
with you – it may come in handy if you or the hospital staff need to check certain foods.
- Take your Coeliac UK MembershipIf you have been diagnosed with coeliac disease, are seeking a diagnosis or have an interest in the gluten-free diet then you can become a Member of Coeliac UK. card with you – it has our HelplineOur Helpline is staffed by dietitians and food experts. You can call them on 0845 305 2060. number on it so if you or staff are unsure about a food, you can call us.
What if something goes wrong?
If you are not happy with the food that is provided during your stay then we would recommend speaking to the ward staff about this while you are there. You can also ask to speak to the hospital dietitian who may be able to talk to the catering staff on your behalf.
If you feel more comfortable speaking to someone after your stay, you can contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALSThe Patient Advice and Liaison Service is designed to help the NHS listen to patients, their relatives, carers and friends, and answers patient questions and concerns. PALS also provides information about the NHS complaints procedure.) at the hospital. Each hospital has a PALS team and they are there to listen to patients, their relatives, carers and friends about any positive or negative experiences they have had during their hospital stay. They will try to answer any questions and resolve any concerns as quickly as possible.
You could also contact the Nutrition and Dietetic team at the hospital directly and let them know your concerns. They can then pass your feedback on to the catering department on your behalf.