The NHS could save almost £26m a year by scrapping GP prescribing of all gluten-free foods, according to the Department of Health.
An additional £10m could be saved through patients no longer needing to attend GP appointments to get their gluten-free prescriptions, it suggested, as it launched a consultation into completely ending the practice.
The consultation follows an announcement made earlier this week which said NHS England was considering stopping prescribing of low value items available in pharmacies and shops, such as gluten-free foods, painkillers and travel vaccines.
Gluten-free foods including bread, flour and pasta are currently available on prescription to patients diagnosed with gluten sensitivity and have been since the 1960s when they were not widely available.
A DH spokesperson said: ‘Gluten-free foods are now sold in many supermarkets and a wider range of naturally GF food types is also available.
‘Evidence from clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) has also shown that the NHS pays much more than the consumer for the same gluten-free products.The consultation looks at a new, national approach, creating consistency in gluten-free prescribing across the country.’
Health minister Lord O’Shaughnessy said: ‘Changing the way we prescribe gluten-free food could make an important contribution to saving the NHS millions of pounds a year.’
Pulse has already revealed multiple CCGs implementing local restrictions on the prescribing of gluten-free foods and over-the-counter medications.
For example, NHS Norwich and North Norfolk CCGs has already ended the prescribing of gluten free foods, except in exceptional circumstances.
The DH said that spend on gluten-free prescribing fell from £400,000 in 2015 to 2016, to just £21,000 and that the decision had been well received by GPs in Norfolk and by members of the public.
The NHS England review into low value prescription items, aimed at cutting £400m off the annual prescribing budget, will launch in April.