Cash-strapped health chiefs in West Norfolk are considering removing gluten free products from prescription in a bid to save £73,000 a year.
West Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group is facing a potential £4.9million blackhole in its 2015 and 2016 budget.
This is the first time the authority, which is responsible for buying health services in the area, has gone into the red after seeing a rise in costs from hospitals and prescribing medicines during the last financial year.
Prescribing gluten-free products to 404 adults in West Norfolk has been targeted as a way of saving money as many products are now available in supermarkets.
Members of the group’s governing body will be discussing the proposal during their next meeting on Thursday at West Norfolk Council offices in Lynn from 9.30am.
A report to the meeting states: “Whilst it is accepted that this change will not be popular with the estimated 404 patients who currently receive gluten free products on prescription, these types of savings allow the CCG to maintain its investment in higher priority areas such as ambulance services, mental health, and accident and emergency care. The proposal has been discussed with local dieticians, consultants and Coeliac UK.
“A total of £73,000 will fund approximately eight heart bypass operations or 11 new hips or 12 replacement knees. It also equates roughly to the cost of calling out an ambulance 315 times.”
Gluten free products are prescribed to people with autoimmune condition, coeliac disease.
Supermarkets charge £1,97-£2.99 for a 400g to 500g loaf of bread but the NHS reimbursement for this product is £2.50 to £4.88.
If approved the changes could come into effect by January.
Dr Ian Mack said the CCG was facing “significant financial challenges” and has submitted a recovery plan to NHS England which aims to balance the budgets by March.
He said: “As a result we have to look closely at areas where we can make savings. In common with other CCGs an area of focus has been gluten free products which are provided to patients on prescription.
“Gluten free products are now available from all supermarkets and are sold to the public at prices that are considerably lower than the NHS is charged when bought for use on prescription.
“There has been considerable clinical discussion on this issue and West Norfolk CCG is proposing to stop funding gluten free products on prescription for adults but continue funding gluten free products on prescription for children and young people aged up to 18.
“We will review the effects of these changes in a year.”