NHS 'paid £17 for gluten-free pizza base'

Pizza Handling charges mean the NHS is paying four times the price for pizza bases

Related Stories

Two prescription gluten-free pizza bases can cost the NHS as much as £34, BBC Newsnight has learned.

The NHS spent £27m on gluten-free prescriptions in 2011, but handling and delivery charges, which can quadruple the cost, are not recorded.

Coeliac disease sufferers can develop serious illnesses if they eat gluten.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said prescriptions encouraged sufferers to stick to gluten-free diets but that the area was "under ongoing review".

"The aim of providing gluten-free food products on NHS prescription is to encourage patients with coeliac disease to stick to a gluten-free, nutritious diet so they do not go on to develop more serious illnesses, which can affect their quality of life as well as being much more costly for the NHS," he said in a statement.

"However, we keep this area of prescribing under ongoing review and are currently considering how we might get better value from the prescribing of gluten-free products whilst ensuring patients continue to get the products they need."

Gluten-free bread, cake mixes and bourbon biscuits are also available to people with coeliac disease, an auto-immune disease, which is triggered by eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye.

In an example from Rotherham, it was discovered that the NHS had been paying four times the original price for pizza bases.

Start Quote

Geoff Martin

This is a lifetime complaint. When you've got it there is no cure for it”

End Quote Geoff Martin, who has coeliac disease

The two pizza bases originally cost £8.95. But by the time manufacturing, handling and delivery fees were added on, the bill for the NHS had been driven up to nearly £34.00.

Another example comes from Dr Fayyaz Choudri, a GP who was responsible for overhauling gluten-free prescriptions in Allerdale, Cumbria.

"We saw there were occasions where there was a bread loaf costing £2.50 and there was a handling fee of £32.00," he says.

Dr Choudri has coeliac disease himself and knows the importance of a gluten-free diet.

Without it, symptoms can range from digestive disorders to very serious illnesses including osteoporosis and bowel cancer.

Geoff Martin is one of a growing number of people in the UK diagnosed with the disease.

"This is a lifetime complaint. When you've got it there is no cure for it," he says.

The condition is triggered by an intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye - and therefore a common ingredient in many processed foods.

Gluten-free foods Gluten-free biscuits and cakes are currently available on NHS prescription

"The only solution to it," Geoff continues, "is eating food that is gluten free."

Living as he does in rural Oxfordshire, this is a problem. In order to guarantee a varied and balanced diet, Geoff relies on his prescriptions for gluten-free food.

Geoff's NHS trust is one of many now reviewing its policy on gluten-free food.

With an estimated one in 100 people affected by gluten intolerance, campaigners want the NHS to continue providing staple foods like bread and pasta.

These are increasingly available in shops, along with a wide range of gluten-free products. But they are often much more expensive than regular foods.

Coeliac UK, which represents sufferers, worries that the hidden costs of prescriptions (which patients pay for, unless they have other conditions which qualify them for free scripts) is giving the whole system a bad name.

Allergy advice label on food product Coeliac disease leads to tiredness, anaemia, weight loss, diarrhoea and constipation

Newsnight contacted one of the leading manufacturers of gluten-free food, Juvela. They blamed wholesalers for adding "extra charges, sometimes adding a £20 handling charge to a £3 loaf".

This is questioned by the British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers, which represents some of the biggest companies.

They told us they would be "keen to investigate any relevant cases of alleged poor standards or distribution practice."

To try to safeguard prescriptions, Coeliac UK has drawn up guidelines for NHS trusts on what sort of items should be prescribed - recommending that biscuits and cake mixes should only be given in "exceptional circumstances."

But Newsnight has contacted five trusts which say they have not passed on the guidelines, and that cakes and biscuits are still available on prescription.

With NHS budgets under relentless pressure, these are increasingly being seen as rations the NHS cannot afford.

Watch Liz MacKean's full report on gluten-free prescriptions on Thursday 24 May at 22:30 BST on BBC Two, then afterwards on the BBC iPlayer and Newsnight website.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 537.

    How can PINCHOSALT say that bread and pasta are luxuries? Shame on you all and lets hope for your sakes you are not suddenly diagnosed with Coeliacs disease. I can assure you your views will change instantly when eating GF supermarket breads (it has different ingredients to the prescription loaves). Yes, stop the biscuits and cakes, but keep the staples and make the SYSTEM better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 536.

    This is an appalling waste of money. Why should the tax payer pay for thios when it is available in supermarkets. I am diabetic, which is a far more serious disease, and its regulation is both diet and drug relgulated - I would not expect the tax payer to pay for my food, why should Ceoliacs! Perhaps the money saved could be spent on eye operations!

  • rate this

    Comment number 535.

    This is a general issue with public sector spending in that costs, fees & charges are not challenged or question as often as they should.

    I work for a company that has some dealings with the NHS and can tell you that when we get sales orders from them, they NEVER negotiate on the price yet private clinics always do.

    This is not new. This has been the case for decades.

  • rate this

    Comment number 534.

    sorry - am I reading this right - Medically trained pharmacists are being paid to supply pizzas?
    This is insane.
    Firstly this is the job of the private sector who do this for a living. It's not hard to monitor the supermarkets & ensure they're not profiteering.
    Where help is needed with the extra cost, what about a simple Ceoliac benefit? We have them for other things!

  • rate this

    Comment number 533.

    Too many commenters here have no idea of what the lifestyle of a coeliac involves & costs. The prescription system is there to encorage compliance with the diet and thus maintain their long term health prospects. Unfortunately the GF suppliers play the NHS (like all pharmaceutical companies), and also own the supermarket GF brands: expensive to either NHS or coeliacs personally, both are loosing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 532.

    19. David James
    Take this with a pinch of salt. The £32 loaf of bread story has been comprehensively debunked and media outlets that printed the story had to issue a correction.

    Don't give us FACTS, David - we want hearsay and hysteria!

  • rate this

    Comment number 531.

    ....and how much have the BBC spent finding this out? More than £34 I am guessing. (It also probably looks very cheap alongside the lunches BBC executive enjoy at our expense) What a waste of the poll tax we have to pay for our state broadcaster.

  • rate this

    Comment number 530.

    Consider social responsibility. The firms adding the large costs are guilty of not showing any. The NHS is guilty of wasting public money by being incompetent in its dealing with contracts. The food industry which makes it more costly to buy UNproccessed food rather than processed food are also not showing social responsibility. Personal responsibility and lack of home cooking is also an issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 529.

    I would like the government to tell me why the NHS has to pay the VAT on equipment but private hospitals, classed as charities, don't.
    Another case of companies soaking the NHS for as much as they can get.

  • rate this

    Comment number 528.

    The issue here is not about Coeliacs, it's about Private sector companies charging way over the odds because the government is paying. I fully support sufferers of any illness/disease getting appropriate prescriptions, but for the NHS to be paying over the odds like this is scandalous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 527.

    Any Ceoliacs should look at the paleo/primal diet. I'm type 1 diabetic (not the 'lifestyle' type) and dont touch wheat and it's easy. Humans arent evolved to eat grains, they were introudced to the diet only 10,000 years ago which is nothing in human evolution terms which is why so many people cant tolerate them and those who think they can tolerate dont know what issues it's potentially causing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 526.

    From the Wikipedia page on Coeliacs disease:
    "Coeliac disease leads to an increased risk of both adenocarcinoma (small intestine cancer) and lymphoma of the small bowel (enteropathy-associated T-cell lymphoma or EATL). This risk returns to baseline with diet."

    RETURNS TO BASELINE WITH DIET. What costs more? £8 pizza bases or treating bowel cancer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 525.

    My daughter has coeliac disease age 8. Prior to diagnosis she also has autoimmune thyroid disease. With the gluten free diet her thyroid function is now normal, her coeliac symptoms abated.
    Fresh bread on prescription makes her life more normal. The bread she likes is NOT available in the shops. We supplement her prescription allowance with products and ingredients from the supermarket.

  • rate this

    Comment number 524.

    I am gluten & wheat intolerant though not ceoliac. Nowadays there are many more gluten free products available at the supermarkets than before (and it doesn't have to be expensive). I don't feel that I should have my food subsidised just because I can't eat wheat or gluten, when there are so many healthy, viable alternatives out there. Save the money for acute and critical illnesses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 523.

    Can I just point out people who are obese, smoke, drink to excess all life styles they have chosen, get help to treat their related conditions, so why shouldn't people with coeliacs disesase get a little help with a condition that they are born with and can do nothing about??? Albeit, the bread/cake mix on precription makes perfectly good pizza bases and cakes, so get cooking!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 522.


    So gluten is added to vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, lentils, chickpeas, cheese, oats, rice, potatoes, fish etc etc etc is it?

    It is only found in processed foods, which we should all probably be eating less of anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 521.

    It's absolutely boiling here in Birmingham so how about nipping down to the pub for a beer? Oh, hang on, can't have a beer cos it's made from gluten containing ingredients, and pubs don't do gluten free beer, never mind I can buy four small bottles from the supermarket for £8.50. Don't even mention minimum charging.

  • rate this

    Comment number 520.

    #9. RYGnotB

    Private companies viewing the NHS as a cash cow? Methinks this is a glimpse of the future


    Future? Don't be daft. The public sector not worrying about overspending has been there for donkey's years. Have you seen how much we are spending on the hospitals Labour bought on HP? It would not happen in the private sector - so the public sector needs to sort itself out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 519.

    Other people with other illnesses e.g. diabetes (need a low sugar diet) don't get food prescriptions. It should be the same for everyone who requires a special diet. I'm intolerant to fish - will the NHS pay for me to have a nice juicy rump steak?

  • rate this

    Comment number 518.


    "If you have a serious illness such as coeilac or diabetes then I would think that not eating certain things goes with the territory, sadly."

    I agree. A diabetic I get no help with food costs and don't expect any when lifestyle changes help

    I manage diet and rather than overpriced sugar free products make much of my own

    Self help seems alien to many who look to an NHS handout


Page 30 of 56


More Health stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.