How you're paying for Scotland’s doughnut binge

With waiting times up and the country gripped by “austerity”, the NHS in Scotland is spending millions on prescribing biscuits, hot-dogs and doughnuts to coeliacs. It’s crazy, says Merryn Somerset Webb.


Mmm... doughnuts. But why on the NHS?

I wrote here a few years ago about what I considered to be the scandal of gluten-free food prescriptions.

It seemed to me at the time a bad idea that everyone with coeliac disease (which means we can't eat gluten) should, instead of simply not eating bread, cake and biscuits, get gluten-free bread, cake and biscuits at the general public's expense.

This stuff is not only entirely unnecessary, but it is expensive and generally super-bad for you too. I didn't expect other coeliacs to agree with me (turkeys, Christmas, etc) and in general they didn't.

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But I suppose I did rather expect the dire financial state of the nation to lead to some of the excesses of entitlement nonsense to come to an end. They have not.

Look to Scotland. There the NHS is a mess. A leader in the FT today points out that waiting times for patients have shot up in the last two years with the number waiting more than 12 weeks to be seen more thandoubling, and the share of A&E patients treated within four hours constantly trending down.

So what do you think NHS Scotland is spending money on? I suspect we could make a pretty depressing list, but in a sign of just how messed up modern priorities are, part of the answer is doughnuts.

Last year, NHS Scotland spent £4.1m on prescriptions for gluten-free food. 52,000 of those were for "cookies and biscuits". 18,615 were for pizza bases. 1,139 were for hot dogs and hamburgers. And 407 were for doughnuts. Doughnuts!

Yes, if you are a UK taxpayer you are paying for someone with an unpleasant but relatively easily manageable auto-immune disease to eat things that are really, really bad for them. Via the health service. I can't believe there aren't better things to spend money on. Cancer drugs perhaps?

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.