Thousands could soon get weight-loss jabs on the NHS in bid to curb appetites and cut obesity

The drug can help people to eat less. Credit: Szabo Viktor via Unsplash

Thousands of obese people will be able to get a fat-busting drug on the NHS after a watchdog approved its use.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said people on the weekly injections saw their weight drop by 12% on average after 68 weeks.

Nice has issued draft guidance recommending semaglutide (also known as Wegovy and made by Novo Nordisk) for adults with at least one weight-related condition and a body mass index (BMI) of at least 35.

In some cases, those with a BMI of 30 may be able to access the drug, which is given via a pen injector.

Patients inject themselves with semaglutide, which suppresses the appetite through mimicking the hormone glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) that is released after eating.

This makes people feel full, meaning they eat less and lose weight.

The drug can make people feel less hungry. Credit: Tamas Pap via Unsplash

Nice said anyone from a south Asian, Chinese, and black African or Caribbean background will also be able to access the drug at a lower BMI and can be advised by a medic. Researchers said this was because differences exist between Asian and non-Asian populations in terms of body composition and definitions of obesity.

The weight-related conditions that make obese people eligible include high blood pressure, dyslipidaemia (unbalanced or unhealthy cholesterol levels), obstructive sleep apnoea and heart disease.

People will only be given semaglutide on prescription as part of a specialist weight management service involving input from several professionals, and for a maximum of two years.

Clinical trial evidence shows that people lose more weight with semaglutide together with supervised weight loss coaching than with support alone.

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The 2019 Health Survey for England estimated that 28% of adults in England were obese and a further 36% were overweight, costing the NHS and wider economy billions of pounds a year.

Helen Knight, programme director in the centre for health technology evaluation at Nice, said: “We know that management of overweight and obesity is one of the biggest challenges our health service is facing, with nearly two-thirds of adults either overweight or obese.

“It is a lifelong condition that needs medical intervention, has psychological and physical effects, and can affect quality of life.”

The list price of semaglutide 0.25mg, 0.5mg and 1mg is £73.25 per pack (four pre-filled pens excluding VAT).

The dosage schedule for patients is put at an induction dose of 0.25mg, increasing every four weeks to a maintenance dose of 2.4mg.

Nice’s approval is subject to consultation.

The earliest the final guidance, which would apply in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, could be published is May 25. The injection could then be available on the NHS 90 days later, if it gets the go-ahead.