Oxfordshire’s health authority is set to be the first in the UK to ban gluten-free food from NHS prescriptions to save £350,000 a year.
If it gets given the go-ahead, it will affect thousands of county residents who get food such as breads, pastas, pizza bases and crackers paid for by the NHS.
Children and adults with coeliac disease cannot eat gluten, a product which is found in wheat, barley and rye, and is also often in products such as mayonnaise, soup, and other processed goods.
The only treatment for the disease is a gluten-free diet for life.
There are believed to be more than 6,000 coeliac sufferers in the county and symptoms can range from mild to severe abdominal pain, to osteoporosis, and even bowel cancer.
Last night, the move was condemned by charity Coeliac UK, which said NHS Oxfordshire was the only trust to consider the “draconian” move.
Chief executive Sarah Sleet said: “The primary care trust has said it does not give food on prescription to other groups with food intolerances.
“Coeliac is not a food intolerance, it is an auto-immune disease. It’s very wrong of them.”
NHS Oxfordshire, which decides how health service money is spent locally, said in Oxfordshire it spends £350,000 each year on around 25,000 prescriptions for gluten-free foods for people with coeliac disease.
A spokesman added: “Twenty or thirty years ago, only a small range of gluten-free foods were available and these were relatively expensive.
“To enable people to manage their disease, GPs were able to provide gluten-free foods on prescription.
“However, in recent years, there have been considerable improvements in the types of foods available in shops and supermarkets.
“The NHS does not provide food on prescription for other groups of patients whose diseases are associated with, or affected by, the type of food they eat.
“For these reasons, we are considering whether or not the local NHS should continue to provide NHS prescriptions for gluten-free foods.”
Sarah Sheldon, from Jericho, Oxford, was diagnosed with coeliac disease three years ago.
A unit of gluten free food is classed as the equivalent of either 250g of pasta or 400g of bread.
The mum-of-three, in her 50s, said she is eligible for around 14 units of food on prescription each month.
Mrs Sheldon said: “I am in two minds about this. People who are allergic to dairy do not get food on prescription.
“I do think there’s a case to maybe let people have the staple foods, such as bread.”
A public consultation has opened and will run until February 3.
l The questionnaire can be filled in at http://bit.ly/xUfNWB. Comments can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or posted to Communications and Engagement, NHS Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Cluster, Jubilee House, 5510 John Smith Drive, Oxford Business Park South, Oxford, OX4 2LH COELIAC DISEASE FACTFILE Coeliac disease is caused by a reaction to gluten.
It is a disorder of the small intestine that occurs genetically.
Symptoms may include severe diarrhoea, wind, bloating, constipation, fatigue, stomach cramp and mouth ulcers.
In young children, symptoms can occur after weaning on to cereals containing gluten. They include muscle wasting in arms and legs, bloated tummy, irritability and failure to gain/lose weight.
If you think you have coeliac disease, continue eating gluten and seek advice from your GP.