Since writing my first article on Wegovy, an injectable weight loss drug, Boots have announced they are launching the treatment for people categorised as overweight (with a BMI of 30 or over and at least one weight-related comorbidity). Previously, Wegovy was available in the US as a celebrity wonder drug for those willing to pay for it.
But maybe we should be questioning the impact of the Wegovy injection on the ‘dieting industry’ and its accessibility to the public on prescription.
Wegovy’s active ingredient, semaglutide, is a synthetic version of a hormone that stimulates the release of insulin. The increased amount of insulin can reduce a patient’s blood sugar levels, and can therefore be very helpful for treating people with hypertension, such as Type 2 diabetics. This science is also how Ozempic is intended to be used. Ozempic® is indicated for the treatment of adults with insufficiently controlled type 2 diabetes mellitus as an adjunct to diet and exercise (as monotherapy or in combination with other medicines for treatment of diabetes).
However, Wegovy also slows gastric emptying, making patients feel artificially fuller for longer after eating, leading to a reduced appetite. By eating less food, the patient will then lose weight over time.
Ozempic® is indicated for the treatment of adults with insufficiently controlled type 2 diabetes mellitus as an adjunct to diet and exercise (as monotherapy or in combination with other medicines for treatment of diabetes). Semaglutide known as Wegovy® is indicated for weight loss and management. They are not the same medicine and are not interchangeable, they differ in their approved indications, dose escalation and study populations.
Reducing a patient’s appetite is the aim of many weight loss surgeries the NHS already offers such as gastric band, gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy. However, these free treatments are only available to morbidly obese patients (BMI above 40). Wegovy on the other hand is available for patients with a BMI as low as 30 with at least one weight-related comorbidity.
Boots have claimed that for customers to be prescribed Wegovy, they will have to fill out an online consultation form, which will be assessed by a clinician. Alongside the prescription of Wegovy will be a “follow-up and support package” intended to help patients maintain a healthy lifestyle, which includes healthy eating and regular exercise.
Holistic treatment is vital to sustaining a lifestyle change, but is this prescription truly accessible to everyone? Now, being available on prescription should mean Wegovy is more accessible to the public, but can everyone who wants the treatment pay for it?
Prescription medication in the UK currently costs £9.35 an item, and Wegovy is administered with a changing dosage on a monthly basis. On the manufacturer’s website (Novo Nordisk) the full course of the injectable drug is five months. The final NHS price agreed with NHS England for Wegovy® (semaglutide 2.4mg) has not been disclosed. However, there are still financial barriers in the place of equal treatment for prescription medication.
For students on a tight budget, paying per item in a prescription already disadvantages people with recurring health issues. ‘Luxury’ clinical treatments being limited to people who can pay for healthcare is a scary prospect. But it’s something that is becoming all too realistic for basic care options.
This article was updated with corrections on 13/03/2023.
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