Gluten-free aid cut for coeliacs

Up to 16,000 medical card holders who have coeliac disease will no longer be able to use their cards to buy gluten-free products — a change in policy that could add up to €80 a month to a person’s grocery bill.

This is the latest attempt by the HSE to help reduce its spiralling €250m budget deficit. Health chiefs say removing gluten-free food from the medical card prescription list will lead to savings of up to €3.6m a year.

The Coeliac Society of Ireland says the move will place great financial pressure on people already struggling to make ends meet.

Ireland has one of the highest rates of coeliac disease in the world. Sufferers of coeliac disease cannot eat gluten, a protein found in everyday foods such as bread, pasta, beer, and pizza, and also in many processed foods, such as soups, sauces and ready meals.

Gluten-free products cost up to three times more than regular bread, pasta, and other flour-based products.

Last night, a spokesman for the Coeliac Society said it is “seeking clarification from the HSE regarding the situation with gluten-free foods on the GMS and DPS schemes”.

“We are working with the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute to strongly highlight the adverse effects of these possible cuts,” the spokesman said.

The HSE has said coeliacs who receive social welfare or are on a very low income can avail of a supplementary allowance to help fund the cost of their special diet.

However, they will have to undergo a means test and assessment.

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