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NHS Halts New Weight-Loss Patient Referrals Amid Soaring Demand

by Daisy

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK has ceased accepting new patients for weight-loss treatments due to an overwhelming surge in demand for popular weight-loss drugs, Ozempic and Mounjaro.

An investigation has revealed that one in six areas across the country has stopped referrals for specialist weight management services as they struggle to manage the influx of requests.

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According to the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the weight-loss drug Wegovy, known as Ozempic when used for diabetes, can only be prescribed on the NHS if patients attend specialist clinics. However, a recent report by the BMJ indicates that many clinics are unable to meet the surging demand and have halted new patient intake.

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The study found that one in six Integrated Care Boards (ICBs), responsible for commissioning these services, have stopped accepting new patients. In one extreme case, a board received three years’ worth of referrals in just four months.

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Initially, the Government anticipated that around 35,000 individuals would gain access to Wegovy for weight loss after NICE approved it for NHS use. However, the actual number of recipients remains significantly lower due to long waiting times to access specialist clinics. Eligibility typically requires patients to have a body mass index (BMI) of at least 35, along with a weight-related health condition, and a referral to these clinics.

NICE has also proposed draft guidance for a second weight-loss drug, Mounjaro, aimed at the same patient category. Unlike Wegovy, Mounjaro will not be limited to those attending specialist clinics. Both injections are available privately for obese patients and some overweight individuals with health conditions, with private BMI thresholds being lower than those set by the NHS.

The BMJ investigation identified at least seven out of 42 ICBs, covering areas such as Manchester, Bristol, Suffolk, Leicester, Essex, and much of Yorkshire, that have had to close their specialist weight management service lists.

Dr. Nerys Astbury, Associate Professor of Diet and Obesity at the University of Oxford, highlighted the “unequal and very limited” availability of specialist weight management services, noting that in some regions, these services are entirely absent. Even where services exist, they are often oversubscribed, waiting lists are capped, or budget constraints threaten their continuation.

Recent research has demonstrated the significant health benefits of weight-loss jabs. A large-scale study found that these injections reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, or cardiac death by 20% in those who use them for at least three years, a breakthrough compared to the introduction of statins in the 1990s. This finding has led to calls for the jabs to be prescribed similarly to statins.

However, NHS officials caution against using these jabs as a “quick fix” for cosmetic weight loss, noting incidents where young, slim individuals have falsified their weight to obtain the injections, risking severe health consequences. Doctors report an increase in patients presenting to A&E with adverse effects, including pancreatitis, after misleading online pharmacies to meet eligibility requirements.

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