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GPs to prescribe obesity drugs under new Government pilots

GPs to prescribe obesity drugs under new Government pilots

The Government is looking at how GPs could safely prescribe obesity drugs, as part of plans to reduce pressure on the NHS and cutting waiting lists.

A two-year pilot backed by up to £40 million will ‘explore ways to make obesity drugs accessible to patients living with obesity outside of hospital settings’, the Government has announced today.

However the BMA warned that GP workload would need to be taken into account once the scheme was rolled out more widely.

In March, NICE recommended injectable prescription medication semaglutide (Wegovy) for use as part of a patient’s treatment in an NHS specialist weight management service and with the support of a multi-disciplinary team.

It said the drug should be prescribed to adults who have at least one weight-related comorbidity and a BMI of at least 35kg/m2, alongside a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity.

The Government said the new pilots will build on work to ‘tackle obesity, reducing pressure on the NHS and cutting waiting lists’.

It said that 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.

NICE is also considering potential NHS use of Tirzepatide, a first-of-its-kind in the treatment of adults with type 2 diabetes, which could help with weight loss.

Health secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘Obesity costs the NHS around £6.5bn 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.’

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.’

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.’

NHS medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: ‘Tackling obesity is a key part of the NHS Long Term Plan – it can have devastating consequences for the nation’s health, leading to serious health conditions and some common cancers as well as resulting in significant pressure on NHS services.

‘Pharmaceutical treatments offer a new way of helping people with obesity gain a healthier weight and this new pilot will help determine if these medicines can be used safely and effectively in non-hospital settings as well as a range of other interventions we have in place.’

But BMA board of science chair Professor David Strain warned there was ‘a need for greater clarity on whether this scheme will be funded from a new package or existing NHS budgets’.

‘With the waiting list now surpassing seven million, we simply cannot afford for vital services elsewhere to be cut as moving investment from one part of the health services to another will not reduce overall demand.

‘It is also essential that this funding does not come at the expense of upstream preventative strategies, such as delivering on the long-delayed existing policy commitments around junk food advertising on pre-watershed TV and online. The Government must create the opportunities for everyone, particularly our children, to be able to eat healthily and have access to open spaces for recreation.’

The BMA also warned that GP workload must be taken into account once the scheme is rolled out more widely.

‘Given the significant pressures that general practice is under, it is crucial that when the scheme is rolled out more widely, primary care is in a position to be able to deliver it in a way that is sustainable,’ said Dr Strain.

‘The Government must ensure that general practice has the right resources to support an intervention that, although will improve the quality of lives of thousands of people in the long term, will take a considerable time to realise the benefits on the health service.’

The Government also said NHS England is working to implement recommendations from NICE to make this new class of treatment available to patients through established specialist weight management services.


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Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Turn out The Lights 7 June, 2023 11:14 am

Sounds like a fools errand to me Im afraid.Commision and pay for it as will involve a lot of work to do properly.

Dylan Summers 7 June, 2023 11:29 am

I agree that addressing obesity should be a priority for the government.

But the idea of doing it one person/patient at a time in a primary care service that is already in crisis is absurd.

Off the top of my head, the interventions that will have far greater impact relate to legislation around advertising, tax legislation EG sugar tax, planning processes including planning for car-free living and safe cycle spaces, funding for better sports opportunities.

Am I a nanny statist? Yes I suppose so. If we’re either going to have our behaviour manipulated by government for health cost savings or by food and car companies for profit, I’ll take the former.

Some Bloke 7 June, 2023 11:39 am

no we are not. it is a pilot, not a national service. stop publishing misleading headlines

Andrew Jackson 7 June, 2023 12:08 pm

We will all need more nursing hours to weigh and jab the 1000s who are eligible.
May be easy money for General Practice as an enhanced service as there will be no stress in providing the service as it will either work or not.
Maybe we will see the development of a national fat jabbing service akin to the work being done on a national vaccination service or it be farmed out to pharmacy in the future.

Nick Mann 7 June, 2023 1:09 pm

Who’s conducting the post-marketing surveillance?
Is it Novo-Nordisk: manufacturer, designer and sponsor of this ‘NHS’ obesity pathway? Note that the ennobled NHS cheerleader for this drug was also involved in the drug company sponsored trials and paid by Novo-Nordisk.
Obesity drugs aren’t new, Sibutramine was removed from prescription in 2010 due to increased rates of stroke and heart attack. Semaglutide has unpleasant short term side effects and we will need to be carefully monitoring for other more serious issues before describing it as a “game-changer”.
Some much-needed Public Health policy would be a game-changer.

John Graham Munro 7 June, 2023 2:15 pm

How about banning all cookery programs and T.V. chefs?

Saj Azfar 7 June, 2023 2:43 pm

There’s a national shortage of semaglutide so you probably can’t prescribe it anyway hahahaha!

Rogue 1 7 June, 2023 2:43 pm

You can bet they wont fund the psychological services, dietitians, and coordinated exercise programmes that are needed to make this work either. So it’ll be a major dump into primary care
Its already shown that most people will put the majority of the weight back on once they stop, so you could easily have hundreds of patients coming back monthly for the injections? There just arent the staff to make it work.
It needs to be properly planned and funded as a CCG led service (or whatever they are calling themselves this month)

David Church 7 June, 2023 3:28 pm

Sadly, if a ‘trial GP’ can do it, then what is there to stop all GPs doing it in exactly the same way (no funding apart from what you can negoatiate with the marketing manufacturer).
Of course, the best way to make these injections available to patients living in the Community’, is to let them into hospitals!

Richard Greenway 7 June, 2023 5:22 pm

I’m not convinced.
1) No new work without proper funding
2) I’m not that impressed with weight loss stats from trials. In MDT setting you are looking at 10% more likely 5% and unclear what happens when you stop. So that is 1-2 stone weight loss in someone who is 20 stone. Weight watchers and others claim similar figures.
3) Better to legislate ultra processed foods/ sugar taxes rather than give injections to supplement poor diet.

Anonymous 7 June, 2023 7:07 pm

This morning a radio presenter on the news said : GPs will be prescribing this to help REDUCE the strain on the NHS.

Someone clearly deluded is feeding this nonsense to even more unaware idiots.

Dave Haddock 7 June, 2023 8:36 pm

Huge demand privately; opportunity beckons.

David OHagan 8 June, 2023 9:18 am

more work and increased cost to NHS to reduce work and cost on NHS
..but lets keep supermarkets, and food manufacturers profiteering on superfluous and toxic industrial edible substances…

Catherine Jenson 8 June, 2023 9:59 am

Surely before new pilots of new drugs that are only suitable for a small proportion of our obese population, the powers that be should sort out the existing weight management pathway? I have numerous patients of BMI of 40 given an appointment in 18 months’ time for the pathway, by which time they will probably be diabetic.

Paul Burgess 9 June, 2023 9:31 am

Maybe it’ll be like with bariatric surgery; “If I can just get my BMI UP to 35 -I’ll be eligible!”.

Alexis Manning 10 June, 2023 8:51 am

Pointless political posturing. The supplies aren’t available, and when used it helps reduce weight only while you are taking it, plus the risk of longer term side effects. Public health measures are needed to reduce obesity, not this kind of measure.

James Weems 11 June, 2023 10:58 pm

There should be a ban on any new work flow into primary card until serious improvements in confidants and workforce are dealt with.