Diabetes patients in the UK are struggling to access the drugs they need due to a global shortage caused by a surge in demand because of its weight-loss properties.
Semaglutide is used by people with type 2 diabetes to help their bodies release insulin but Diabetes UK fears the growing number of people using it to lose weight is causing supply problems.
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Semaglutide comes in a variety of forms, with one brand Wegovy being recently approved as a weight-loss drug by the NHS for use in England - although it is not yet available - after the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) concluded it is safe, effective and affordable.
However, another form of the drug, Ozempic, which is only aimed at diabetes patients, is in increasingly in short supply despite not being approved for weight-loss in the UK.
Healthcare charity Diabetes UK said it is "concerned that some are struggling to get these prescriptions filled" due to global shortages.
It said people without type 2 diabetes are getting access to Ozempic through off-label prescribing, which is the issuing of medicine to be used for purposes it is not designed for.
Douglas Twenefour, head of care at Diabetes UK, urged clinicians to be mindful of the impacts of off-label prescribing but said type 2 diabetes patients should be assured there are alternatives.
He said: “We know that due to ongoing global shortages, some people living with type 2 diabetes who could benefit from Ozempic are unable to access it.
"While we were assured that this should have limited impact on people with type 2 diabetes who had existing repeat prescriptions, we are concerned that some are struggling to get these prescriptions filled.
“We’re also aware that people without type 2 diabetes are getting Ozempic through off-label prescribing.
"While we understand that off-label prescribing can be beneficial in some circumstances, we cannot support it when it is directly contributing to ongoing shortages that impact on people living with type 2 diabetes, and would encourage clinicians to be mindful of this impact."
One type 2 diabetes patient told ITV News she went into several different pharmacies looking for it "and were told the same thing by every single pharmacist. It just isn't available".
The Department for Health and Social Care is aware of issues facing diabetes patients and is advising healthcare professionals to only prescribe it for its licensed indication.
It is also working with suppliers in order to resolve the problem as soon as possible, health sources have told ITV News.
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The launch of Wegovy, which the government hopes will be used to treat obesity in the UK, would alleviate pressures on the supply of Ozempic, however it is not clear when that will be.
Manufacturers will decide when to launch the drug in the UK, not the government, however pilots on its use will run as close as possible to when the treatments are launched in the UK.
Mr Twenefour of Diabetes UK added: “People with type 2 diabetes should be reassured that there are a number of alternative GLP-1 analogue treatments available that work in similar ways to Ozempic.
"Healthcare professionals will work with patients to find the best course of treatment for them. “Your healthcare team will contact you if shortages of these medications could affect the availability of your medication and discuss this with you. But if you are concerned or have questions about these shortages then you can ring our helpline – call 0345 123 2399."
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