NHS obesity drug: GPs may offer weight-loss jabs to patients

·4-min read
Semaglutide, which is also sold under the brand name Wegovy and Ozempic, is an appetite-suppressant drug  (Pexels)
Semaglutide, which is also sold under the brand name Wegovy and Ozempic, is an appetite-suppressant drug (Pexels)

GPs in England could begin offering weight-loss jabs to patients to cut illnesses related to obesity.

It would help ease pressure on hospitals, and Rishi Sunak has announced a £40 million pilot scheme to increase access to specialist weight management services.

The drug Wegovy was approved for NHS use following research which indicated users could lose more than 10 per cent of their body weight.

However, experts have cautioned that “skinny jabs” are no substitute for exercising and maintaining a healthy diet.

What is Wegovy?

Wegovy is an injectable medicine used for adults with obesity or a (body mass index) BMI of 27 or more.

It suppresses appetite by mimicking a hormone named glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) that is normally released after eating. This makes people feel full, meaning they eat less and lose weight.

Patients will be required to inject themselves weekly.

Prof Nick Finer, honorary clinical professor at the National Centre for Cardiovascular Prevention and Outcomes at University College London (UCL), said: “The efficacy of semaglutide is a true game-changer for the medical treatment of obesity, a chronic disease that shortens life through its many complications.”

It has been reported that some users have hailed the drug as a miracle given the dramatic weight loss they have enjoyed.

Previously in May, a study found that almost half of the children who were administered a “miracle weight-loss” injection lost enough weight to no longer to classified as clinically obese.

Semaglutide, which is also sold under the brand name Wegovy and Ozempic, is an appetite-suppressant drug usually used to treat type 2 diabetes, but is increasingly being used for weight management.

The research, carried out by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine, assigned the injection to 201 adolescents classed as clinically obese.

The study’s results found that, for those on semaglutide, almost 45 per cent of them were able to drop below the clinical definition for obesity.

The report’s conclusion said that administering the drug once a week gave “historically unprecedented” results, and brought about “clinically meaningful improvements”.

Semaglutide has received various high-profile celebrity endorsements, with figures such as Twitter boss Elon Musk having claimed to have used the drug. A Twitter user asked Mr Musk last October how he remained “fit, ripped, and healthy”, to which he replied “fasting” and “Wegovy”. And, many believe others, including Kim Kardashian, make use of it, too.

The “game-changer” drug is set to be available on prescription on the NHS after the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) gave it the green light.

However, the drug can come with some unpleasant side effects, and some have issued warnings about the dangers of dramatic weight loss.

Who can use Wegovy?

Those with a BMI of 30 or more, or those with a BMI of 27 or more who also have a weight-related medical problem, can use the drug.

Patients who are prescribed the medication will have the injections as part of a thorough weight-management programme and an increase in exercise.

Nice says that weight-related conditions that will make obese people eligible will include “Type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, high blood pressure, dyslipidaemia (unbalanced or unhealthy cholesterol levels), obstructive sleep apnoea, and heart disease”.

A study found that people who were given the drug, which comes as a weekly injection, saw their weight drop by 12 per cent on average after 68 weeks.

Does Wegovy have any side effects?

Nice has said it will be approving the injectables for a two-year course of treatment at a maximum, with side effects minimal when used correctly.

Mild nausea, diarrhoea, and headaches are some of the side effects but they were found to be “mild to moderate in severity and subsided with time”.

When will Wegovy be available in the UK?

The new scheme will test how GPs could safely prescribe such drugs as Wegovy.

Mr Sunak said: “Obesity puts huge pressure on the NHS.

“Using the latest drugs to support people to lose weight will be a game-changer by helping to tackle dangerous obesity-related health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer.”

The injectable is already available privately through pharmacists and costs on average £130 per month. The drug will be available to NHS patients soon when the launch of the drug in England is confirmed by manufacturer Novo Nordisk.

Helen Knight, director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said: “For some people, losing weight is a real challenge, which is why a medicine like semaglutide is a welcome option.

“It won’t be available to everyone. Our committee has made specific recommendations to ensure it remains value for money for the taxpayer, and it can only be used for a maximum of two years.

“We are pleased to finally publish our final guidance on semaglutide, which will mean some people will be able to access this much-talked-about drug on the NHS.”

Sky News reported that in February, it had transpired that some high street chemists in England will prescribe the drug, if suitable, through their online doctor services.