By Laura (The Gluten-Free Traveller)

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This may seem like pure fantasy for US celiacs but in some countries, including the UK and Ireland, biopsy-diagnosed celiacs are entitled to free or subsidized gluten-free products to help them to adjust to the gluten free diet without too much of an additional cost. When I was first diagnosed in the UK I was very happy to receive subsidized gluten-free bread and pasta thanks to our wonderful NHS.

Gluten-free products such as bread, pasta and crackers – anything which is normally filled with gluten and is specifically made to be gluten free – tends to be pretty expensive. Receiving free or subsidized gluten free basics therefore makes a big difference to celiacs where this is offered.

Unfortunately due to fiscal cutbacks, Irish celiacs are now missing out on this. Forty-one products which were previously free of charge or subsidized under the Health Service Executive (HSE) drug’s schemes are no longer available. It was confirmed earlier this week that 23 gluten-free food products have been taken off the list in order to save €3.6m.

The HSE receives around 16,000 claims each month for free or subsidized gluten-free food.

The move has been met with opposition from the Coeliac Society of Ireland. A spokeswoman from the Coeliac Society warned that the side effects and long-term complications of not sticking to a strict gluten-free diet are very serious.

On the other side of the debate, a spokeswoman for the HSE said that many European countries did not reimburse for gluten-free foods, adding they were considerably cheaper in a supermarket compared to pharmacies.

“There is a social welfare allowance available for medical card holders, and for those without a medical card there is tax relief available.”

Ms O’Byrne, St John’s Wood, Clondalkin, Dublin, who is suffering from cancer, said she could not afford to buy the gluten-free foods on her social welfare allowance of €188 a week.

This problem is not unique to Ireland. Similar issues as a result of cutbacks are also affecting many British celiacs.

What are your thoughts on this? Should celiacs receive subsidized gluten free food or not?