GPs will no longer be able to prescribe a majority of gluten-free foods from next month, the Government has announced.
The cost-saving decision, which follows extensive consultation, makes an exception for bread and mixes, which GPs will still be allowed to prescribe.
GPs are being advised to ‘update their prescribing systems’ accordingly, with NHS England instructed to issue guidance to CCGs.
The Department of Health and Social Care consultation response said its ‘policy objective’ was ‘to make cost savings through restricting the prescribing of [gluten-free] foods, whilst maintaining adherence among patients and so avoiding detrimental health effects’.
The latest consultation, launched in August this year, received over 900 responses from stakeholders including GPs, CCGs, patients and charities.
The Government’s final decision comes despite more than half (56%) of all respondents expressing concerns about ‘unintended consequences’ from the new regulation.
However, among GP responses the proportion concerned was lower, at just 40%.
GPs were also more likely to believe the regulation would ‘achieve the desired changes; to provide a staple list of [gluten-free] bread and [gluten-free] mixes to patients on NHS prescription’, at 70% compared with just 44% of overall responses.
The Government will amend regulations during November, with the changes coming into force from 4 December.
Its consultation response said: ‘Subject to the amendment regulations coming into force, prescriptions issued for the supply of gluten-free products after 4 December 2018 will be for gluten-free bread or mixes only.’
BMA GP Committee clinical and prescribing lead Dr Andrew Green said: ‘There has been a long debate about what access patients with coeliac disease should have to NHS supply of gluten free foods, and this decision is clearly a compromise.
‘Many CCGs have already introduced restrictions more restrictive than this, and it is important that they now review these policies so that all patients in England have equality.’
But he added: ‘This is a good example of a situation where GPs should not be required to issue prescriptions at all, and it is a shame that an opportunity has been lost to simplify and make more efficient the arrangements for NHS provision of items which do not legally need a prescription.’
A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘The decision to continue prescribing bread and mixes to patients with coeliac disease was based on feedback received from two national consultations.
‘In keeping these basic items on prescription, patients will still be able to access a wide variety of gluten-free foods in supermarkets and other food outlets and any savings can be put back in to the NHS.’
A previous consultation, carried out last year, had reported similar findings.