§ Mr. Carter-Jones
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is his policy towards the prescription of 100 per cent. gluten-free foods for people suffering from coeliac disease; and if he will make a statement.
§ Sir George Young
The National Health Service Act provides that only drugs and medicines can be supplied at Health Service expense to patients who are living at home and being treated by their family doctor. However, in certain circumstances, a food may have the characteristics of a drug in the treatment of a patient's condition, and an independent professional body, the Advisory Committee on Borderline Substances, advises the medical profession and the Health Departments on the circumstances in which an item such as a food may be regarded as a drug and therefore prescribable at NHS expense.
The advisory committee has recommended that a range of food products may be regarded as drugs in the management of coeliac disease because the very low level of residual gluten they contain renders them safe to coeliac patients. Certain others of the products recommended by the committee are totally free of gluten, as they are manufactured from substances which themselves are naturally wholly free of gluten.
My right hon. Friend's professional advisers tell me that the recommended products in which residual gluten is at a very low level are as safe for and beneficial to the coeliac sufferer as the recommended preparations which are totally gluten-free. Both kinds of products are therefore available at NHS expense and may be prescribed by a family doctor in the event of his feeling it necessary for the treatment of his patient.