Person holds pills in their hand

£40m pilot for drug pilot to tackle obesity

The government has announced a two-year pilot designed to help people living with obesity gain access to the “newest and most effective obesity drugs”, in a bid to help cut NHS waiting lists.

The pilot follows the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence’s recommendation earlier this year regarding the drug Semaglutide (Wegovy), for adults with a BMI of at least 35 and one weight-related health condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

The government hopes that the pilot will help cut 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’s recommendation stipulates that Wegovy should only be available via specialist weight management services, which are largely hospital based. As such, around 35,000 people are expected to have access to the new treatment.

The pilot is set to explore how approved drugs can be made safely available by expanding specialist weight management services beyond hospital settings, including looking at how GPs could safely prescribe the drugs, and how the NHS can provide support in the community or digitally.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay commented: “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.”

NHS medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powiss added: “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.”