I'm not quite sure where all the fuss started. Was it The Daily Mail's huge blunder? They later apologised but if you've forgotten, in August 2015 they stated £116million was being spent on the NHS giving donuts and biscuits to people on prescription. Coeliac UK hastily corrected them to £26million (and pointed out that doctors can only prescribe staple foods like bread).
But clearly the misinformed are still out there. Only yesterday I got this response from a tweet I put out to Morrisons:
Often I find people talk about their own experiences of buying food when they may not know many people (if any) who eat gluten-free, then see out of date food on the freefrom shelves and assume there's no need for it.
But if so few people buy gluten-free, the freefrom aisle wouldn't have expanded in recent years. It's actually estimated to be worth over £500million this year alone (according to a Mintel report).
And what about those prescriptions people think we're all getting for free? Most people don't qualify for free prescriptions and coeliacs are no different. We have to pay for gluten-free food from the doctor, except that getting the prescription is becoming increasingly difficult.
Below is the prescriptions map for England (courtesy of Coeliac UK). As you can see, a vast number of counties in the map are red - i.e. places where coeliacs probably won't get food from their doctor.
Since gluten-free bread is often four times the price of 'normal' bread, it's easy to see why people are upset. Why should we have to pay more for staple foods simply because we have a medical condition?
But we can have hope. Regardless of your opinion on people who choose to eat gluten-free (without a medical reason to do so), they help drive costs down. The more people buy gluten-free, the more investment will be made and the better the availability. Even the last couple of years have seen the cost of a gluten-free loaf go down to £2 in many supermarkets, which is considerably less than it used to be (with a much nicer tasting loaf, too!).
So if you come up against the uninformed, arm yourself with some facts and stats. Get the real information out there and help all coeliacs' lives become that bit easier. Together we can have a very powerful voice, and that's definitely something to help combat issues surrounding prescriptions.
What are your experiences of gluten-free food on prescription? Do share your thoughts below!
The Daily Mail's apology (for anyone who'd like to see it):
The original strapline to this report about NHS food prescriptions said that £116m was spent on ‘gluten-free junk food on prescription’.
We are happy to clarify that this was the bill for foods for all special diets, not just sufferers of coeliac disease.
The NHS bill for gluten-free products for coeliac disease sufferers was, in fact, £26.8m in 2014. We are also happy to clarify that the majority of the £116m was spent on staple foods rather than on ‘junk’ food; that doctors are normally only authorised to prescribe staple foods, not ‘junk food’, for people diagnosed with coeliac disease; and that NHS rules do not allow prescriptions for people with gluten intolerance.
We apologise to coeliac sufferers for any distress they may have been caused.