Trends, geographical variation and factors associated with prescribing of gluten-free foods in English primary care: a cross-sectional study.
Walker AJ., Curtis HJ., Bacon S., Croker R., Goldacre B.
OBJECTIVES: There is substantial disagreement about whether gluten-free foods should be prescribed on the National Health Service. We aim to describe time trends, variation and factors associated with prescribing gluten-free foods in England. SETTING: English primary care. PARTICIPANTS: English general practices. PRIMARY AND SECONDARY OUTCOME MEASURES: We described long-term national trends in gluten-free prescribing, and practice and Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) level monthly variation in the rate of gluten-free prescribing (per 1000 patients) over time. We used a mixed-effect Poisson regression model to determine factors associated with gluten-free prescribing rate. RESULTS: There were 1.3 million gluten-free prescriptions between July 2016 and June 2017, down from 1.8 million in 2012/2013, with a corresponding cost reduction from £25.4 million to £18.7 million. There was substantial variation in prescribing rates among practices (range 0 to 148 prescriptions per 1000 patients, IQR 7.3-31.8), driven in part by substantial variation at the CCG level, likely due to differences in prescribing policy. Practices in the most deprived quintile of deprivation score had a lower prescribing rate than those in the highest quintile (incidence rate ratio 0.89, 95% CI 0.87 to 0.91). This is potentially a reflection of the lower rate of diagnosed coeliac disease in more deprived populations. CONCLUSION: Gluten-free prescribing is in a state of flux, with substantial clinically unwarranted variation between practices and CCGs.