New drugs pilot aims to tackle obesity and cut NHS waiting lists

  • Date: 13 June 2023

MORE people living with obesity will have access to the latest weight-loss drugs as part of a multi-million pound pilot scheme announced by NHS England.

The £40 million scheme will spend two years exploring ways to make obesity drugs safely available to more people.

Earlier this year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended the use of Semaglutide (Wegovy) for adults with a body mass index (BMI) of at least 35 and one weight-related health condition – such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Other drugs are currently under consideration in clinical trials.

But NICE advises that Wegovy should only be available via specialist weight management services, which are largely hospital-based.

The pilot scheme will investigate how specialist weight management services can be expanded outside of hospital settings. This includes looking at how GPs could safely prescribe weight-loss drugs and how the NHS can provide support in the community or digitally.

Obesity costs the NHS in England £6.5 billion a year and is the second biggest cause of cancer. Research suggests that drugs such as Wegovy can help people lose up to 15 per cent of their body weight in the first year when taken alongside diet, physical activity and behavioural support.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak said: “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.”

Chair of the Royal College of GPs Professor Kamila Hawthorne said shifting some of the care provided by specialist weight loss clinics into primary care “made sense” and was “worth exploring”. But she said: “[T]his would need to be matched with sufficient resource and funding to account for the increased workload.”

She added: “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”.

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