Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes CCG set to consult on fertility services, gluten-free food prescriptions and free over the counter medication

But the CCG says its preferred option is to reduce services instead of rolling them out to all areas

By John Guinn
Thursday, 30th September 2021, 12:16 pm

Fertility services, access to gluten-free food on prescription and free over the counter medication for people with limited incomes are set to be put to public consulation.

Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes (BLMK) is set to consult on the process to align place-based policies that are either not provided across all the former clinical commissioning groups (CCG), or there is a difference in the way the services are provided.

Three areas of policy alignment have been identified as requiring a public consultation; gluten-free food prescribing, the Pharmacy First Minor Ailment, and fertility services.

The CCG is set to hold a consultation

Except in exceptional circumstances, for example where patients could be at risk of dietary neglect, only the Luton Clinical Commissioning Group (LCCG) provides gluten-free foods (bread and flour) on prescription.

The Pharmacy First Minor Ailment Scheme provides over the counter medicines free of charge for people with limited incomes, and is only available from Milton Keynes CCG (MKCCG).

There is a variation with Fertility Services across the area; MKCCG and Bedfordshire CCG (BCCG) both offer one cycle of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment, while LCCG offers three.

But instead of rolling out the services to all areas, BLMK CCG’s preferred options are to withdraw the gluten-free bread and flour available on prescription in Luton (whilst ensuring access when appropriate), to withdraw Pharmacy First in Milton Keynes and to reduce the current offer of three cycles of IVF to residents in Luton to one cycle for all eligible patients, and to extend access to the service.

Michelle Summers, associate director of communications and engagement at BLMK CCG, gave an update to the CCG’s General Meeting in Public (September 28) on the process.

Dr Edward Sivills, the interim medical director, was involved in the engagement process and was one of the team that recently gave a presentation on these plans to Bedford Borough Council.

“A point they raised was, when we ask the public for their opinions, how do we ensure that we give adequate weight to all the responses”, he asked.

“Rather than focus on the people who perhaps hold very strong views?

“How do we make sure that those views are representative of the whole population and not just the ones who are more likely to fill in the responses because they have a vested interest?”

Michelle Summers responded, “We make sure that in the analysis that everybody's voice is heard, if there are 8,000 comments, then there will be 8,000 comments recorded in the proposal.”

Dr Sivills put forward an example where only eight responses for the IVF treatment were given, all from people who had gone through the treatment, and none from people who weren't interested in it.

“How to make sure that the views are fully representative of our million patients?” he asked.

Ms Summers said that the CCG is also consulting with partners, such as Health Watch and local authorities, who will be putting forward the views of those who may not have responded directly to the consultation.

“The governing body’s role is to take what we have heard in the round and make the decisions going forward in terms of what's fair”, she said.

Dr Sarah Whiteman, BLMK CCG chair, added, “Ultimately, the consultation is about collating the views. It is the CCG that has to make the difficult decisions about what to commission based on evidence.

“Of course, it isn't just about the money, it's also about value for money and whether or not three [fertility] cycles offer that or not, for example.

“So it is a complex argument.”

The public consultation is planned to be held from 12 October 2021 through to 21 December 2021.

The governing body will make its decision on the realignments in February 2022.