More people living with obesity will have access to the newest and most effective obesity drugs to help cut NHS waiting lists, following the announcement of a £40 million two-year pilot today [Wednesday 7 June].

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.

There is evidence from clinical trials that, when prescribed alongside diet, physical activity and behavioural support, people taking a weight-loss drug can lose up to 15 per cent of their body weight after one year. Taking them alongside diet, physical activity and behavioural support can help people lose weight within the first month of treatment.

Obesity Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Obesity is one of the leading causes of severe health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, and it costs the NHS £6.5 billion a year. There were more than 1 million admissions to NHS hospitals in 2019/2020 where obesity was a factor.

Using the latest treatments to tackle obesity will contribute to cutting waiting lists by reducing the number of people who suffer from weight-related illnesses, who tend to need more support from the NHS and could end up needing operations linked to their weight – such as gallstone removal or hip and knee replacements.

NICE advise that Wegovy should only be available via specialist weight management services, which are largely hospital based. This would mean only around 35,000 people would have access to Wegovy, when tens of thousands more could be eligible.

The £40 million pilots will explore how approved drugs can be made safely available to more people by expanding specialist weight management services outside of hospital settings. This includes looking at how GPs could safely prescribe these drugs and how the NHS can provide support in the community or digitally – contributing to the government’s wider ambition to reduce pressure on hospitals and give people access to the care they need where it is most convenient for them.

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.