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Am I eligible for Ozempic, and how do I get it? Our experts answer all your questions about the weight-loss drug

Weight loss drugs have been hailed by everyone from politicians to Hollywood’s finest.

Actress Rebel Wilson revealed they helped her maintain her slimmer figure, while Oprah Winfrey said their advent ‘feels like relief, like redemption, like a gift’.

Yet though the use of Ozempic – a brand name of the medication semaglutide – may seem ubiquitous, there are strict criteria to get your hands on such treatments in the UK.

So, are weight loss jabs right for you, and if so how can you get them? Here are some questions to consider…

Oprah Winfrey said the advent of weight-loss drugs ‘feels like relief, like redemption, like a gift’

How much weight can I expect to lose?

The drugs mimic glucagon-like peptide-1, or GLP-1, a hormone released by the gut when you eat. It turns off hunger signals in the brain and stimulates the pancreas to release insulin – a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. 

You will need to eat a reduced-calorie diet and exercise regularly while taking the drug. The combination results in an average of a 15 per cent reduction in body weight within 16 months.

Am I eligible to get it on the NHS?

Originally conceived as a treatment for type 2 diabetes, NHS guidance says that Ozempic should not be prescribed solely for weight loss, to protect supply for diabetes patients.

However, Wegovy – another brand of semaglutide – is available on the NHS, but only for people dealing with problems caused by obesity, not just those who want to lose some weight.

Weight-loss drugs mimic glucagon-like peptide-1, a hormone released by the gut when you eat. It turns off hunger signals in the brain and stimulates the pancreas to release insulin

Weight-loss drugs mimic glucagon-like peptide-1, a hormone released by the gut when you eat. It turns off hunger signals in the brain and stimulates the pancreas to release insulin

Your GP might recommend semaglutide, given via a once-a-week injection, if diet and exercise have not worked on their own, you have health problems caused by your weight, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, and have a BMI of 35 or more (though this can vary for ethnic minorities).

A similar weight-loss drug available on the NHS is liraglutide (also known by the brand name Saxenda), which requires daily injections. To be eligible, all of the following must apply: You need to be aged up to 75; have a BMI of 35 or more; have high blood sugar; and be at high risk of heart problems – for example, because you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

What about a private prescription?

Even privately, you can get Wegovy only with an assessment, a prescription and ongoing support. Private doctors may use more discretion when it comes to your BMI, but they still need to consider national advice.

When it comes to Ozempic, many private doctors follow the same principle of not prescribing it solely for weight loss, but some are prepared to prescribe it for non-diabetics.

If you pay for your NHS prescriptions, Wegovy and Saxenda cost the standard £9.90 per pack of four or five pre-filled pens. Privately, a four-week supply of Wegovy can start at £169 and a six-week supply of Saxenda is about £230.

How long can I take it for?

If you take Wegovy you would be given a review after six months and would usually only continue if you have lost at least 5 per cent of your body weight in six months. 

Under current guidelines, semaglutide is available via the NHS only for a maximum of two years. However, this does not apply to private prescriptions and some experts anticipate many patients will be on it for life, as two-thirds regain their starting weight a year after stopping.

Martin Whyte, associate professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Surrey, points out that the use of long-term medications for conditions such as diabetes and asthma ‘is never questioned… obesity is no different’. But he adds that semaglutide is ‘a treatment but not a cure. Major efforts in obesity prevention are needed – at a societal level’.

Why would it not be for me?

It is not recommended if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. The most common side-effects are nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and constipation. Many people have also reported fatigue and headache.

What if I can’t get it?

The standard NHS advice is to reduce your food intake by 600 calories a day to lose weight at a sustainable rate of 0.5 to 1kg a week (for most women, that will mean consuming no more than 1,400 calories a day). Adults are also recommended to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week .

Other options include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and, for those with severe obesity (a BMI of 40 or more), bariatric surgery, but only when all appropriate non-surgical measures have been tried.


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