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Coeliac UK letter to the Daily Mail and others on gluten-free prescriptions

17 August 2015

Following an article in the Daily Mail this morning which incorrectly stated that gluten-free food on prescription costs the NHS £116 million per year, we have written to the newspaper to insist on a correction.

The cost of gluten-free food to the NHS in 2014 was £26.8 million, equating to £180 per diagnosed patient. This makes gluten-free prescribing one of the cheapest treatments for a long term condition in the NHS.

The letter has also been sent to other newspapers who covered the story including the Mirror, the Times, the Telegraph and the Express.

We have also sent a letter to Lord Prior who is quoted in the Daily Mail article to make him aware of the facts around the issue.

You can read more on our other media work in response to this article.

The letter

Dear Sir/Madam

We are writing to insist on a correction on behalf of the tens of thousands of people diagnosed with coeliac disease who have been cast as undeserving recipients of NHS prescriptions for junk food.

The article published today under the headline:

“Doughnuts and pizzas on the NHS: £116m of gluten-free junk food was handed out in prescriptions in the past year”

is in fact, both wrong and a gross distortion of the reality. 

In 2014, £26.8m was spent on prescribed gluten-free products – not £116m quoted in the headline. This equates to an annual cost of £180 per diagnosed patient making it one of the cheapest treatments for a long term condition in the NHS.  The national guidance on gluten-free prescribing sets out clearly that only gluten-free staples should be prescribed by GPs, such as breads and flours.

The article suggests that millions of pounds of NHS money is being spent on gluten-free cakes and sweet biscuits.  There is no evidence to support this.  The reality is that in many areas of the country many patients are struggling to get the limited amount of gluten-free staples set out in national guidance or having treatment services stopped altogether. 

The number of those medically diagnosed with coeliac disease has increased by around 14% since 2009, while the cost of gluten-free food prescribing services has actually decreased by 3.5% over the same period.  This shows that the vast majority of people with coeliac disease, and those who treat and support them, use NHS resources both carefully and responsibly. 

Coeliac disease is a lifelong autoimmune condition for which the only treatment is a lifelong strict gluten-free diet.  Undiagnosed or untreated coeliac disease can lead to osteoporosis, infertility and in rare cases, small bowel cancer and without support, people with coeliac disease are at greater risk of these complications.

We would like the Daily Mail to immediately correct the misinformation that has been published today.

Sarah Sleet

Chief Executive of Coeliac UK

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