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UK government announces £40m weight loss drug pilot



More people living with obesity will have access to the newest and most effective obesity drugs to help cut NHS waiting lists after the UK government announced a £40 million two-year pilot.

The pilot will explore how approved weight loss 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.

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.”

Earlier this year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended the use of Semaglutide (Wegovy) for adults with a BMI of at least 35 and one weight-related health condition,  such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Other drugs are currently being assessed in clinical trials.

There is evidence from clinical trials that, when prescribed alongside diet, exercise 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, exercise and behavioural support can help people lose weight within the first month of treatment, the trials have shown.

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 the drug, when tens of thousands more could be eligible.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, said:

“Obesity costs the NHS around £6.5 billion a year and is the second biggest cause of cancer.

“This next generation of obesity drugs have the potential to help people lose significant amounts of weight, when prescribed with exercise, diet and behavioural support.

“Tackling obesity will help to reduce pressure on the NHS and cut waiting times, one of the government’s five priorities,  and this pilot will help people live longer, healthier lives.”

NICE is also considering potential NHS use of the drug Tirzepatide – which is currently licenced to treat diabetes but may also help with weight loss – if it receives a license for weight loss in the coming months.

Losing weight can help to reduce the risk of obesity-related illness which in turn can reduce pressure on the NHS, cut waiting times, and realise wider economic benefits, the government said.

Health Minister Neil O’Brien said:

“We know that obesity puts additional pressure on the NHS and is linked to a whole host of health problems – including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“Expanding how to access these innovative new drugs will ensure as many eligible patients as possible have the opportunity to try these treatments if they are right for them to help achieve a healthier weight.

“These pilots build on our ongoing work to tackle obesity – including introducing calorie labelling on menus to empower people to make informed decisions and investing in school sport to give children an active start in life.”

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