Taking the milk from babies is an NHS cut too far

kirstie-smithCROYDON COMMENTARY: Our under-funded NHS has chosen to make cuts which will adversely affect women, as KIRSTIE SMITH, pictured, knows very well from her own experience

The decision of Croydon Clinical Commissioning Group, or CCG, to stop prescribing specialist baby formula has raised some very important questions. I hope that some of the doctors and NHS officials who made those decisions, announced this week, might read this and provide me with some background information.

I have two children, A is three years old and B is two years old. They both were diagnosed as babies with cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA). For context, neither has formula any more and came off it as soon as they could, so I do not have a vested interest in the Croydon CCG decision not to prescribe baby milk any longer.

With A, we didn’t know anything was wrong. We were first-time parents, what did we know? The health visitor sent the five-day-old baby to hospital they were re-admitted at seven weeks’ old, and that’s when they were diagnosed and prescribed Nutramigen formula. 

I always thought food allergies were fads. Now I know better.

B was also diagnosed as a baby, he was a few weeks older than A. He was also prescribed Nutramigen but could not tolerate it, and was later prescribed Neocate.

baby-milk-bottlesBoth milks are specialised formulas for babies with cow’s milk allergy. Nutramigen is hydrolysed, so while it still contains cow’s milk protein it is broken down so much that the body shouldn’t recognise it. Neocate is amino acid-based and contains no cow’s milk protein at all.

My children relied on formula. It was difficult to get the milks from our GP, because the second milk B was prescribed after he failed to tolerate Nutramigen was not on the GP’s “list”, so we had to re-visit the paediatrician for an alternative.

Both formula milks are expensive. I have first-hand experience of paying for some emergency tins when I mistakenly put our prescription in late. We were on a never-ending trip to the GP, pharmacist, GP, pharmacist, only being prescribed two tins at a time.  Nutramigen was £19 per tin and Neocate £46 per tin. These tins contain just 400gm, so they last two and a half days. “Normal” formula, off the shelf in Boots, is 800g.  So all that expense for half the amount of formula.

This week Croydon CCG decided not to prescribe specialist formula any longer. Formulae such as lactose-free or soya-based is readily available for prices comparable to regular formula. But formula suitable for children with CMPA is not.

The CCG website states that their decision will affect children with CMPA. So what are parents to do? How many can realistically afford £128 per week for Neocate or £53 per week for Nutramigen? Do parents in Croydon make the decision to get into debt or do they feed their child regular formula because they can’t afford what they need? Child benefit won’t come any where near helping with this cost. How does making these decisions and dealing with the consequences affect the parents’ mental well-being?

The impact of this decision will undoubtedly affect prescribing in other areas: steroid creams for excema, antihistamines, trips to A&E for breathing difficulties, hospital admissions, anti-depressants or counselling for parents, and many more GP appointments. Did the CCG not consider subsidising the cost of formula to make it more affordable for parents? What are they doing to pressure pharmaceutical companies to reduce costs of medicine?

And how has Croydon CCG come to this decision when milk is a baby’s only source of food and nutrition?

And so to my burning question: where do parents stand with Social Services when they knowingly feed their child something harmful (for example, an allergen – in this case regular formula) because they cannot afford what they need and are getting no support from the NHS? Would this be a case of neglect – knowingly harming a child?

The cut to prescription formula milk is not the only cut proposed by Croydon CCG. There’s the women’s mental health centre, and next it’s IVF. All treatments which affect women.

I am very happy with my GP and this isn’t aimed at them – after all, they are limited in what they do by the decisions of the CCG. And I absolutely understand that prescriptions and medicine are expensive, but Croydon is playing postcode lottery and in the case of baby milk it is with the most vulnerable.

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1 Response to Taking the milk from babies is an NHS cut too far

  1. Abbott Katz says:

    You may be interested in my post on NHS prescription costs, at http://www.spreadsheetjournalism.com.

    Abbott Katz

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