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Counting the Pounds?

Celiac disease is a little different in the United Kingdom.

For starters, it’s called coeliac disease. Fun!

For seconds, if you’ve got a diagnosis you can also get access to reduced-priced gluten-free staple items like bread, pizza bases, and flour mixes. Your general practitioner can write you a prescription for a fixed number of gluten-free food “units” based on your gender and age, which can be filled at the pharmacy.

Double fun! If you want to read more, check out Coeliac UK’s site; there are a handful of PDFs to the right, including one that lists all the different brands and items available on prescription.

Problem is, the county of Oxfordshire (home to Oxford University) wants to ban gluten-free foods from prescriptions.

The county says they will save an estimated £350,000 ($545,000) by eliminating gluten-free food from the list of items people can get on prescription. According to the Witney Gazette, the county is home to approximately 6,000 people with coeliac disease and writes about 25,000 annual prescriptions for gluten-free food.

A spokesperson for the National Health Service’s Oxfordshire trust explained that gluten-free food was put on prescription when coeliac disease was rare and safe food was hard to come by, but now that it is so common the need is less dire for government intervention. The spokesperson added, “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.”

The chief executive of Coeliac UK countered by explaining that, “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.”

This comes only months after public outrage was stirred at accusations that the Welsh NHS was paying £20-£32 per loaf of gluten-free bread. It’s unclear how accurate this number actually was; check out celiac.com’s analysis of the issue, including a statement from Genius bread. Or, have a gander at Wales Online, whose article also indicates the figures may be inflated and includes listings of comparably-steep markups on other pharmacy items like cold & flu tablets or cold sore cream.

How are the people of Oxfordshire (or the readership of the Witney Gazette) feeling about the issue? Check out their comments for some interesting perspectives on life with coeliac disease in the UK.

What do you think?