Coeliac dietitian shares ‘desperate need’ for more to be done for those with gluten-free diets

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A specialist coeliac dietitian has shared the “desperate need” for more to be done to support those with gluten-free diets across the county.

Following Coeliac Awareness Month in May, Nicola Walpole, who has 18 years of experience, shared the insight she has gained by working for the Northamptonshire Healthcare Foundation Trust.

Nicola previously worked as a veterinary nurse for 16 years until one of her sons developed a problem with gluten, which sparked her interest in diet.

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“Diet makes such a difference and I really struggled with my son for a couple of years,” said the specialist coeliac dietitian who works with Northampton and Kettering General Hospitals.

Following Coeliac Awareness Month in May, Nicola Walpole, who has 18 years of experience, shared the insight she has gained by working for the Northamptonshire Healthcare Foundation Trust.Following Coeliac Awareness Month in May, Nicola Walpole, who has 18 years of experience, shared the insight she has gained by working for the Northamptonshire Healthcare Foundation Trust.
Following Coeliac Awareness Month in May, Nicola Walpole, who has 18 years of experience, shared the insight she has gained by working for the Northamptonshire Healthcare Foundation Trust.

“He had an awful stomach and I was at the end of my tether with the sleepless nights. It was exhausting. It was only when he was referred to a dietitian and recommended a gluten-free diet, which made such a difference.”

Before Nicola was appointed in her role in October 2022, there had never been a specialist coeliac dietitian in Northamptonshire – and there are very few across the UK.

“In the past, people with coeliac disease have been seen once and are left to get on with it,” said Nicola. “They really struggled.”

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Though she is only funded to work 11 hours per week, but continues to go above and beyond to support those in need, Nicola says this is better than not having a county specialist at all.

Nicola formed the Northamptonshire Coeliac Group on Facebook and hosts monthly coffee mornings at different locations, which has helped people with shared experiences to meet and support each other.

She is there to answer any questions and the attendees often share recommendations and advice among themselves – particularly as they are faced with the expense of adhering to a gluten-free diet.

“It is thought to be one in 100 who have coeliac disease and only 30 percent are diagnosed,” Nicola added. “I want to raise awareness of the possible symptoms as many are misdiagnosed with IBS.

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“It’s a genetic condition and often runs in families. It doesn’t just cause gastro problems, but also neurological problems, brain fog, infertility, recurrent miscarriage, liver problems and enamel defects.

“I want to train GPs in the area on national guidelines and improve recognition of coeliac disease among them.”

Nicola hosted a gluten-free beer festival at Saxby’s Cider on Saturday (June 1) and around 250 people were in attendance.

“People with coeliac disease want to lead a normal life and enjoy things as much as everyone else,” she added. “They find it difficult to go to special occasions as they are anxious. It’s sad.”

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Talking about the gluten-free offering by venues across the county, the specialist said: “Some places are brilliant, and it’s great when people go along and feel safe.

“There are a lot of companies that aren’t so good and Coeliac UK does training on how they can cater for a gluten-free diet and prevent contamination. There are simple steps they can easily make at little cost.”

Nicola concluded by stressing the “desperate need” for a full-time post for a specialist coeliac dietitian across the county, as she would love to train GPs and venues and offer cookery demonstrations if she had the funding.

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