• Four CCGs across STP ignore government guidance on NHS funding for gluten free food prescriptions
  • Commissioners claim they would lose more than half a million pounds if they followed DHSC guidance

Children, pensioners and low income families may be at risk because an STP is ignoring government guidance on commissioning gluten free foods, a senior health leader has warned.

All four clinical commissioning groups in the Derbyshire sustainability and transformation partnership have decided to stop prescriptions for gluten free food in a bid to save £650,000 per year.

This is despite guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care, published last month, which said the NHS should offer prescriptions for gluten free bread and flour.

Sandra Gidley, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, warned that the CCGs’ decision could “adversely impact” children, pensioners and low income families.

In March 2017 the DHSC launched a three month consultation on whether the NHS should fund prescriptions for gluten free food products. The consultation results were published in January 2018, and showed the majority of responses were in favour of prescribing gluten free bread and flour.

However, in its conclusions DHSC said final decisions on whether to fund gluten free food would be for local commissioners to make.

North Derbyshire, Erewash, Hardwick and Southern Derbyshire CCGs have decided to continue to not prescribe any gluten free foods.

The policy was first implemented in November 2017.

A board report published on 23 February by Southern Derbyshire CCG said that between December 2016 and November 2017 gluten free food prescriptions cost Derbyshire CCGs over £650,000. Around £528,000 was due to prescribing “bread and mixes”. If the DHSC guidance was followed, savings would be cut by to around half a million pounds to £122,000.

Ms Gidley told HSJ: “I do think it is a shame when there is national guidance and local [commissioners] think they know better, they don’t know better health wise – they are just trying to cut corners and make health savings…

”I think children will be affected. They may risk not having a gluten free lunch at school. Young people, people on low income and pensioners are almost definitely going to be the people who are adversely affected by this decision because when you are having to make every penny count you have to make difficult decisions.

“I would urge commissioners to think twice and put themselves in those people’s shoes, the young, the old and see if they still think it’s a fair decision.”

A spokeswoman for the CCGs said: “The four governing bodies of our Derbyshire CCGs have reviewed in detail the recently announced decision of the DHSC and their stance that; “It is for CCGs to decide how they commission local services to best meet the needs of their populations.”

“Our current position is that we will continue with our policy change… based upon the priorities and needs of our local population.” 

The spokeswoman added that the CCGs plan to implement “support mechanisms” for people who previously relied on prescriptions.