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Cutting back on prescribing gluten-free foods seems a sensible move.

THE mantra of recent public health campaigns has been about the importance of a healthy and balanced diet.

Eating more fresh foods and less of the high salt, sugar and fat variety, we are told is key to staying healthier for longer.

So it would seem somewhat strange that the NHS persists in prescribing biscuits, cakes and even sausage rolls - all of which fall firmly under the heading of "must eat less".

Admittedly, these foods are prescribed to people with Coeliac disease, who depend on a gluten-free diet for good health.

But should the NHS really be subsidising such foods, not just because it clashes so violently with the public health messages but also because of the straitened financial climate in which we - and the NHS - currently find ourselves? The move by Cardiff and Vale University Health Board to ask GPs to stop prescribing the so-called "luxury" gluten-free products, such as biscuits and cakes, seems eminently sensible.

Not only will such a move save thousands of pounds in an already tight prescribing budget, but it will bring this part of the NHS back on to the healthy, balanced diet message.

The move also has the support of both GPs and Coeliac UK, which sees no reason why the NHS should continue to make such sweet foodstuffs available through the prescription system.

The prescription of gluten-free foods, which are listed in the British National Formulary, costs Wales in the region of pounds 2m a year. The cost of prescription cakes and biscuits make up only an eighth of that bill.

But the question is whether other health boards, nursing equally fragile budgets, will now follow suit.

This policy must not be seen as an attack on people with Coeliac disease, or a form of discrimination by the back door. And no-one is suggesting that they shouldn't continue to have access to staple food stuffs, such as gluten-free bread, flour and pasta on prescription.

After all, these foodstuffs are arguably the cornerstone of many Coeliacs' diets. To continue to eat gluten could, in many cases, have consequences for an individual's health and their use of other NHS services.

However, gone are the days when supermarkets didn't stock any gluten-free foods in the tens of thousands of items on their shelves.

Today supermarkets have made a selling point of the fact they stock relatively extensive ranges of gluten-free foods, albeit at considerably higher costs than their gluten-containing counterparts.

With the newfound and widespread availability of gluten-free cakes and biscuits, should we really be expecting the NHS to foot the bill for a person's sweet tooth when such products are within their means?
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Title Annotation:Letters
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 19, 2011
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