Wegovy on the NHS could be a major boost for the economy, claims Health Secretary

Weight loss jabs could boost the economy by getting people back to work, the Health Secretary has said.

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Weight loss jabs

Steve Barclay said there could be “significant” economic benefits to prescribing Wegovy to thousands of NHS patients, as various challenges linked to obesity such as mental health and musculoskeletal conditions impact the labour market.

It comes as the Government on Wednesday launched a new £40 million trial to expand access to weight loss jab Wegovy to tackle Britain’s obesity crisis, and related health issues such as diabetes and cancer.

It aims to make the weight-loss treatment, which can currently only be accessed through specialist services in hospitals, available through GPs.

Obesity is estimated to cost the NHS around £6 billion a year, and a £27bn cost to wider society.

Mr Barclay told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he believed the trial scheme could be “hugely significant” to the NHS.

He said it was “right to signal there could be potential economic benefits because economic inactivity, mental health challenge, MSK [musculoskeletal] conditions, [and] various health challenges linked to obesity obviously have an impact in terms of the labour market, in terms of staff absence”.

“But that’s not the criteria on which this pilot is being set; it has been set on health criteria, and that’s what we’re focused on.

“But from that pilot, the Chief Medical Officer, working with the chief economist in the Treasury, will be looking at what wider benefits there may be, because there could be significant benefits economically,” he said.

However, the Health Secretary insisted that the “primary focus of the pilots is on tackling health conditions such as diabetes, such as mental health, such as cancer, that we know are linked to obesity”.

Mr Barclay added that the pilot scheme would place the NHS “at the front of the queue” with the latest medicine, and would ensure it is “world leading in getting that innovative medicine to patients”.

Wegovy was approved for NHS use earlier this year, but the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said it should only be available through specialist services which are largely hospital-based.

Research suggested the drug, which has been used by a number of celebrities in the US including Elon Musk, could help users shed more than 10 per cent of their body weight.

Similar brands of semaglutide, such as Ozempic and Mounjaro, which work in a similar way but are designed to treat diabetes, have not yet been approved on the NHS specifically for weight loss.

Announcing the pilot scheme, Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, said 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”.

Prof Kamila Hawthorne, the chairman of the Royal College of GPs, welcomed the move but said there would need to be “sufficient resources and funding to account for the increased workload”.

She added that there also needs to be enough of the drug available “so as not to raise patients’ expectations, as there may be a significant number of people who would benefit from it”.

Official statistics show almost 1.5 million hospital admissions in England related to obesity in 2021/22 – triple the amount under a decade ago.

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