What is Wegovy? The weight loss drug now available on the NHS

A 'game changing' weight loss drug is now available on the NHS, Martin Stew has the latest

A "game-changer" weight loss drug has been rolled out in a new £40 million NHS pilot scheme.

The drug, also known as semaglutide, will be prescribed via specialist NHS weight management services alongside a reduced calorie diet and exercise from Monday.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) gave approval for the use of semaglutide, also known as brand names Wegovy and Ozempic, earlier this year.

Semaglutide is an appetite suppressant, which is popular with high profile names, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who injects it in the form of Ozempic to maintain his weight.

He's not the only famous face to reveal he uses the "wonder drug".

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said he tried Ozempic, but says it did not stop his "11.30pm fridge raids for cheddar and chorizo".

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the use of drugs could be a game-changer in treating obesity Credit: Leon Neal/PA

The government hopes by making weight loss treatments accessible through GPs, it will cut health problems caused by obesity and its £6.5 billion cost to the NHS.

When prescribed alongside diet, physical activity and behavioural support, people taking a weight-loss drug can lose up to 15% of their body weight after one year, with results apparent within the first month, official clinical trials show.

Guidance from Nice says the drug will only be offered on the NHS to adults with at least one weight-related condition and a body mass index (BMI) score of at least 35.

Around 35,000 people will have access to Wegovy, the government said, despite tens of thousands more being eligible according to the Nice guidelines.

A £40 million two-year pilot will explore how approved drugs can be made available to more people by expanding specialist weight management services outside hospitals.

This includes looking at how GPs could safely prescribe the drugs and how the NHS can provide support in the community or online.

Prime Minister Rishi 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 – reducing pressure on hospitals, supporting people to live healthier and longer lives, and helping to deliver on my priority to cut NHS waiting lists.”

There were more than one million admissions to NHS hospitals in 2019/2020 where obesity was a factor and it is one of the leading contributors to conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Only recently, diabetes patients in the UK have reported struggling to access the drugs they need due to a global shortage caused by a surge in demand because of Wegovy's weight-loss properties.

What is Wegovy or Ozempic?

Wegovy and Ozempic are two brand names for semaglutide - an appetite suppressant.

Ozempic is a weight-loss injection popular with celebrities – Twitter and Tesla tycoon Elon Musk and former Prime Minster Boris Johnson say they've used it to stay in shape. Reality star Kim Kardashian also reportedly uses it.

Patients inject themselves weekly with the drug, manufactured by Danish firm Novo Nordisk, which mimics 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.

Who is eligible for the NHS pilot?

Adults with at least one weight-related condition and a body mass index (BMI) score of at least 35 - clinically obese- are eligible to take the drug.

The weight-related conditions which make obese people eligible include:

  • type 2 diabetes,

  • prediabetes,

  • high blood pressure,

  • dyslipidemia - high cholesterol

  • obstructive sleep apnoea - snoring which impacts breathing

  • heart disease

NHS England national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said winter will be ‘challenging’ Credit: Toby Melville/PA

NHS medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: "This new pilot will help determine if these medicines can be used safely and effectively in non-hospital settings as well as a range of other interventions we have in place."

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners said: “Any plans to expand availability of semaglutide in primary care must also be done based on evidence of long-term benefit to patients – and sufficient availability of the drug must be ensured ahead of any roll-out, so as not to raise patients’ expectations, as there may be a significant number of people who would benefit from it.”

Eating disorder charity Beat has previously raised concerns about the drug.

Tom Quinn, Beat’s director of external affairs, said: “Weight-loss medications like semaglutide can be extremely attractive to people with eating disorders as they appear to provide quick results.

“However, these medications can be very dangerous as they can worsen harmful thoughts and behaviours for those unwell, or contribute to an eating disorder developing for someone who is already vulnerable.”

For eating disorder support email help@beateatingdisorders.org.uk.

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