Unregulated use of semaglutide for weight loss is posing a ‘genuine threat to patient safety’, the RCGP has warned.
The Department of Health and Social Care has issued a warning of ongoing supply problems with the drug until the middle of next year.
It suggests patients with type 2 diabetes could be missing out as a result of growing online ‘unregulated’ sales of the obesity drug.
The ‘very limited, intermittent supplies’ of all glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists for treatment of type 2 diabetes is a result of increased demand both for licensed and off-label use, DHSC said in a medicine supply notification.
GPs were advised in October not to start new prescriptions for injectable semaglutide and dulaglutide as manufacturers struggled to keep pace with global demand.
NICE approved Wegovy – a version of semaglutide – as a weight loss treatment for adults with obesity and at least one weight related co-morbidity in March.
While NICE said this should be done as part of specialist weight management services, last month the Government announced a two-year pilot scheme to evaluate how GPs could could safely prescribe obesity drugs to cut waiting lists.
The DHSC notice rated the supply issues as ‘high impact’ and linked to clinical guidance on prescribing alternatives.
‘Supply is not expected to return to normal until at least mid-2024’, it said.
Dr Victoria Tzortziou-Brown, RCGP vice chair: ‘Semaglutide is currently licensed for use in the treatment of diabetes and more recently weight-loss, for people meeting certain criteria, through specialist NHS clinics.
‘However, it is not a “miracle drug” for weight loss and its growing popularity for personal use without prescription through unregulated online outlets is troubling – posing a genuine threat to patient safety, as people may not be buying what they think they are, and potentially contributing to supply shortages.’
She added that government plans to expand the use of semaglutide through a pilot scheme in primary care may well prove to be a highly valuable in tackling obesity but that ‘made it all the more vital that adequate supplies of the drug are secured’.
Medicine supply problems are a frequent source of concern for patients, and frustration for GPs and pharmacists, she said.
‘Sudden shortages in any drug can disrupt treatment plans which means additional appointments have to be held and patients may need to be closely monitored as they’re put on an alternative medication – intensifying the existing workload crisis, and causing worry for patients.’
Note: this article was corrected to reflect that NICE approved Wegovy in March