November 28, 2023

Watch: £40m pilot scheme launched to increase access to weight-loss drugs and cut NHS waiting lists

Access to a new weight loss drug on the NHS, described as a “game-changer” by Rishi Sunak, is set to be increased.

The PM made the comments while announcing a £40 million pilot scheme to increase access to specialist weight management services in a bid to combat obesity.

The government wants to tackle the health problems and £6.5 billion cost to the NHS of obesity by making it easier to access weight-loss treatments through GPs.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) gave approval for the use of appetite suppressant Wegovy earlier this year, but said it should only be available through specialist services which are largely hospital-based.

But the government is keen to explore how approved drugs can be made available to more people by looking at how GPs could safely prescribe the drugs.

Access to Wegovy on the NHS for weight loss could soon be improved. (Getty Images)

Access to Wegovy on the NHS for weight loss could soon be improved. (Getty Images)

Wegovy, or semaglutide, is usually prescribed as a type 2 diabetes medication that blunts appetite.

It has the same ingredient as Ozempic, which has been causing a stir recently having said to be used by celebrities to manage their weight.

But experts have warned that there could be some side effects to using the drug as an aid to weight loss, without medical supervision, with Dr Amir Khan previously appearing on both GMB and Lorraine to issue some advice.

Here’s everything you need to know about Wegovy or Ozempic in 11 points.

What is Ozempic? Ozempic, Ryblesus and Wegovy are all brand names for a compound called semaglutide. The drug is typically used as a diabetes medication, can be prescribed in various doses and can be in the form of a weekly injection – administered in the stomach, thigh or arm – or a daily oral tablet.

The drug reportedly reduces appetite. “It is a hormone that our guts naturally produce,” explained Dr Amir Khan on ITV’s Lorraine. “It sends messages up to the pancreas to start producing insulin. But one of the side effects is it slows down the movement of food in the gut so you stay fuller for longer and you don’t have much of an appetite. That means you eat less which results in weight loss.”

The drug is rumoured to be secretly used by many Hollywood stars. At the Critics Choice Awards earlier this year Chelsea Handler hinted that many celebrities were taking the injectable. “Like when celebrities joke they lost weight by drinking water, but really it’s because everyone’s on Ozempic,” she joked. “Even my housekeeper’s on Ozempic.”

Searches on social media also link the Kardashians with the drug. But despite Kim Kardashian never confirming her use of Ozempic and her sister, Khloe, issuing a statement denying that she’d used it, it continues to clock up hashtags.

Semaglutide is the official name for Ozempic, which is typically a medication for type 2 diabetes. (Getty Images)

Semaglutide is the official name for Ozempic, which is typically a medication for type 2 diabetes. (Getty Images)

Other celebrities have openly admitted using the drug as a weight loss aid including Elon Musk, who told Twitter he’d tried it. The Tesla founder said the once-weekly injectable was his secret weapon for being “down 30lbs”. Jeremy Clarkson also recently discussed using the drug in a bid to lose weight and help prevent type 2 diabetes.

It’s causing quite the buzz online. Thanks to its reputation as the weight loss drug du jour, Ozempic is quickly clocking up views and shares on social media. On TikTok the hashtag #ozempic already has 1.1 billion views and counting, while Instagram is littered with users sharing their “Ozempic journey” to weight loss.

The drug was hailed a potential ‘game changer’ during an official UK study. It first started causing a buzz in the UK as a weight management tool after a University College London study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found just over a third (35%) of people who took it for obesity lost more than a fifth of their total body weight.

GPs could soon prescribe weight loss drug Wegovy. (Getty Images)

GPs could soon prescribe weight loss drug Wegovy. (Getty Images)

Ozempic does come with risks. Dr Amir Khan warned that side effects of the medication could include “nausea, vomiting, feeling bloated, diarrhoea, but in some, more serious, cases it can cause inflammation of the pancreas, that’s pancreatitis.”

He added it can also cause gall bladder problems. “It can even cause kidney failure,” he said, “so really it should only be available on prescription. I do prescribe it to my patients living with type 2 diabetes, but it’s very carefully monitored. It is not just given online.”

Eating disorder charities also have concerns. “Weight-loss medications like semaglutide can be extremely attractive to people with eating disorders as they appear to provide quick results,” Tom Quinn, Beat’s director of external affairs, explains.

“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.”

Doctors say weight loss medications aren’t a magic cure. The NHS advises speaking to your GP for advice about losing weight safely “by eating a healthy, balanced diet and doing regular physical activity”.

They can also let you know about other useful services, such as local weight loss groups (either provided by the NHS or your local council, as well as private clubs that you pay for) and “exercise on prescription” (where you’re referred to a local active health team for sessions with a qualified trainer).

Additional reporting PA.


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