Possible cuts to gluten-free prescriptions for patients in Bucks are "surprising and worrying", a High Wycombe charity has said.

Coeliac UK, a national charity based in Desborough Road - has spoken out after Buckinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) announced it was looking to end prescriptions for gluten-free foods for around 350 people in the county.

The Bucks Free Press revealed last week that the NHS spent £111,000 on gluten-free foods for people in the county last year.

Coeliac UK - a charity for people with coeliac disease, a condition estimated to affect one out of every 100 people - is opposing the cuts, saying it goes against the government's decision to maintain the "essential support" for patients with the condition.

In February 2018, following a national consultation on the Future of Gluten Free Prescribing, a decision was announced by the Department of Health and Social Care to retain access to gluten-free breads and flour mixes on prescription in England.

Chief executive of Coeliac UK, Hilary Croft, said cuts to gluten-free prescriptions may leave some patients with coeliac disease without support, which will affect their ability to stick to the gluten free diet, which is the only medical treatment for the condition.

She fears it could lead to nutritional deficiencies and ongoing health issues as well as serious long term complications including osteoporosis.

She said: “Last year the Department of Health and Social Care listened carefully to the consultation responses around the issues of cost, availability and nutritional contribution of gluten free staples in managing a lifelong gluten free diet.

"The vast majority of consultation responses from patients and clinicians agreed that access to gluten free staples is key to helping patients, keep to a gluten free diet and avoid significant health complications as a result.

“Therefore, it is surprising and worrying that this local CCG is ignoring the government’s decision and proposing to remove all access to gluten free prescriptions for the majority of patients with coeliac disease in Buckinghamshire which could result in health inequality.

"We are however, pleased to see in the accompanying consultation documentation that the CCG has highlighted a number of vulnerable groups who will be considered as exceptions to the overall cuts but are still concerned that many may still be deemed exempt.”

Gram for gram, gluten-free bread is five times more expensive than regular gluten-containing bread in the supermarket.

Other gluten-free food staples such as pasta and crackers which are not available on prescription in England, are three to four times more expensive than gluten containing counterparts and availability is limited in rural areas, discount supermarkets and small stores.

Ms Croft added: "For someone medically diagnosed with coeliac disease there is no choice but to stick to a gluten free diet, day in day out for life and so access to gluten free staples is critical, and is not as easy as you might think. The expansion of Free From aisles in large supermarkets masks the reality of very patchy provision. Any reduction in the gluten free prescription services for people with coeliac disease is being based on budgets rather than patient need or clinical evidence."

The news received a mixed response from Bucks Free Press readers.

Mel Vickers said: "This diet is so expensive, I would think many families who have children with coeliac disease couldn't afford it, its probably three times the amount of a normal shop."

Laura Crew said: "Whoever said gluten free food on the high street is cheap needs their head checking, it’s triple the price of non-gluten food - I don’t get a prescription for my coeliacs because I don’t eat enough of the bread, pasta, flour to warrant paying for a prescription but I know coeliacs who do and unless prices in supermarkets are lowered for coeliacs and people with an intolerance then prescriptions should not be stopped."

Meanwhile, Diana Greenhalgh said:"I have lived with coeliac for 30 years and have never claimed for prescription through the NHS, my diet has been controlled through my own management, there are many products on the market that you can eat and live a normal lifestyle."

And Lara Booker said: "I would rather this money was spent on cancer patients getting their prescriptions free. You can buy all of this food in the supermarkets. Makes no sense to me. You can make your own bread very cheaply and it’s much nicer than shop bought."

A statement from the Bucks CCG reiterated that no decision has yet been made, but added that it was the "right time" to review the current system.

They said: "There are many more affordable gluten free alternatives which are easily available in shops now and we are also mindful that people with other special dietary needs – lactose, nut or fish, for instance – do not receive prescriptions. Several CCGs in neighbouring areas have stopped prescribing gluten free foods and we need to ensure that proposals are equitable for our wider population who may be living with similar conditions.

“We want to hear the views of as many people as possible and we encourage anyone who would be affected to complete the survey. Before we make any decisions about future prescribing, it is really important we hear from, or understand, which groups of vulnerable people may have the greatest need for prescribed gluten free food.”

To take part in the survey until December 10, go online to www.letstalkhealthbucks.nhs.uk.