The HSE has confirmed that 16,000 claims a month by people with Coeliac disease for gluten-free products will no longer be covered under the medical card scheme.

The cuts were not included in the list of areas targeted for savings issued by the HSE on Friday as the executive said it was still working on the details at the time. It hopes to save €3.6m a year in the measure.

The Coeliac Society of Ireland said the cuts will affect vulnerable people who have no alternative but to consume gluten-free products, which are often prescribed by GPs.

It said that gluten-free bread can be around five times the price of normal bread and that some families have a number of members with the condition, which adds to the cost.

The HSE said that many European countries do not reimburse people for gluten-free foods, which are considerably cheaper in supermarkets.

It also said that for people with medical cards, a social welfare allowance is available.

Gluten-free products include items such as baking-powder, breads, cornflakes, muesli, pasta and porridge.