The banning of prescriptions for gluten-free foods by some CCGs is to be applauded - but why stop there, asks The Pharmacist’s GP blogger Dr Livingstone

My local clinical commissioning group (CCG), like many others, has decreed that local GPs should stop providing prescriptions for gluten-free foods.

Our usual response to diktats of this sort is to scream and shout at the outrageous restrictions being imposed on our precious clinical freedom, and to carry on in our own sweet way regardless.

Not this time. The pronouncement has been met with universal approval among my colleagues – partly because we’re aware that cost savings need to be made somewhere, but also, I suspect, because it has always seemed weird dishing out prescriptions for biscuits.

In fact, many of us think the concept should be extended, as it has been in other CCGs. Why not, for example, widen the ban to cover other prescriptions, such as paracetamol suspension, emollients, sunscreens and so on?

After all, there are potentially huge savings to be made in NHS funds and time, with minimal impact on patient care.

True, it all seems a bit arbitrary and smacks of fiddling around the edges, but that’s because it is, and does. Tightening up prescribing is just one tiny element of a much wider issue involving the definition of disease and the philosophy of what the NHS can reasonably be expected to provide. That’s one heck of a politically hypersensitive moral maze – but, hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.

So GPs are on board. But I’m not sure about pharmacists. These restrictions will undoubtedly affect footfall and dispensing income. On the other hand, they’ll presumably offer retail opportunities, because patients and parents – or at least some of them – will still want emollients, paracetamol, gluten-free food et al.

I’ve no idea whether, financially speaking, it would end in a financial net gain or a net loss for the average pharmacist. But then, given the benefits to the NHS and the welcome effect on promoting self-sufficiency, you’d support it anyway. Wouldn’t you?