A FINAL rallying call has been issued for people to give their views on the possible axing of gluten-free foods on prescription.
The public has just until the end of this month to have its say on the controversial proposal, by NHS Airedale, Wharfedale and Craven Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
The CCG says it spends over £100,000 a year on the prescriptions, for about 580 patients, but is facing "difficult decisions" over its funding.
It adds that the policy was created at a time when gluten-free foods were not as readily available as they are today.
A spokesman said: "With increasing costs and demand for services, coupled with the growing financial restraints placed on the NHS, the CCG is reviewing what it commissions.
"We have so far received over 470 responses to the consultation – which began in January – and are still keen for everyone to share their views.
"We are reviewing the gluten-free policy as part of an overall NHS programme known as QIPP – quality, innovation, productivity and prevention – which is all about making sure that each pound spent brings maximum benefit and quality of care to patients."
The NHS has prescribed gluten-free foods such as bread, flour, cereal and pasta to people with coeliac disease for more than 30 years.
And nationally, £25 million a year is being spent on the prescriptions.
But any cut is being opposed by charity Coeliac UK which claims it would have a huge impact on vulnerable patients, affecting their ability to stick to a gluten-free diet.
It warns that long-term health implications could result, including osteoporosis, infertility and – in rare cases – small bowel cancer.
Sarah Sleet, the charity's chief executive, said: "For someone medically diagnosed with coeliac disease, there is no choice but to follow a gluten-free diet – day in, day out for life – and so access to gluten-free staples is critical, and not as easy as you might think.
"The expansion of 'free from' aisles in large supermarkets masks the reality of very patchy provision."
People wishing to submit comments can complete a questionnaire at surveymonkey.co.uk/r/65HXF2X, e-mail email@example.com or write to NHS Airedale, Wharfedale and Craven Clinical Commissioning Group, Millennium Business Park, Station Road, Steeton, Keighley BD20 6RB.
The consultation closes on March 31.