Pent-up private sector demand Wegovy raises UK availability concerns

  • Britain is Novo’s fifth market for Wegovy
  • UK has highest obesity rates in Europe (OECD)
  • Wegovy will be available via the NHS and privately
  • Private providers claim to block supply

LONDON, Sept 4 (Reuters) – Britons who can afford to pay out of pocket could have easier access to Novo Nordisk’s weight loss drug Wegovy than those who seek treatment through the country’s public health service, of some doctors and physicians. experts warned Monday.

This risks worsening health inequalities in the country with the highest obesity rates in Europe, as Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) faces growing financial difficulties and delays in waiting records.

Manufacturer Wegovy Novo Nordisk announcement On Monday the drug was launched in Britain, its fifth market, making it available on the NHS weight management programme, where it will be prescribed for free, but also on the private market.

Novo said On Monday it would allocate some of the available supply to the NHS, which said around 50,000 patients could be eligible in England but warned supplies would be limited for the foreseeable future.

Naveed Sattar, a professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow who consulted Novo but said he had no knowledge of its decision-making process, said he was “not comfortable” with the makes Wegovy available privately.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me because there is a significant need in the NHS. Why not put all of this (procurement) through the NHS?” he said.

A 2019 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report says almost one in three adults are obese in the UK, the highest level in Europe.

In the most deprived areas of England, the prevalence of obesity or overweight is 14 percentage points higher than in the least deprived areas, according to 2020/21 data, according to an NHS report published in January .

Many obese people who live in poverty or face other barriers, such as not being fluent in English, may struggle to access specialist NHS services, said Duane Mellor, a dietitian and lecturer at Aston University School of Medicine.

The specialist weight management service provided by the NHS is also relatively small compared to potential demand, doctors said.

The NHS declined to answer questions about access issues raised by doctors, referring Reuters to its earlier statement on the launch.


Wegovy, which has been shown to help patients reduce their body weight by approximately 15% when used in combination with exercise and lifestyle changes, is also available in the United States, in Norway, Denmark and Germany.

But Novo has had to limit its supplies of starter doses to the United States due to supply shortages and growing demand, while German doctors also say supplies are low.

Two of the country’s leading private insurers, Aviva (AV.L) and AXA Health, said they would not cover Wegovy.

Still, high demand from people paying out of pocket for Wegovy, which is injected monthly, could also further hamper Novo’s ability to produce enough of the drug as it tries to expand in Europe.

In a sign of pent-up private demand, British company Simple Online Pharmacy said more than 50,000 people had registered an interest in Wegovy on its website.

Additionally, doctors prescribing Ozempic, Novo’s type 2 diabetes treatment, for weight loss have caused a shortage of the drug in Britain, the government said on Monday. Ozempic contains the same active ingredient as Wegovy, but at a lower dose.

Private providers are blocking supplies.

Simple Online Pharmacy hopes to have Wegovy in stock “within the next 24 hours”, while Numan, an online men’s healthcare company, said it was waiting to learn more about available supply from the wholesaler and intended to fill the orders this month.

Some of the leading suppliers of weight loss drugs in Britain, Simple, Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA.O) and Superdrug said they would charge private patients from £195 for a monthly supply of Wegovy.

The criteria for doctors prescribing Wegovy privately are different to those set under the NHS, potentially widening access to more people.

Juniper, a private, venture-backed online clinic, said it will prescribe Wegovy to anyone with a body mass index (BMI) above 27 and a weight-related comorbidity.

Under the NHS, Wegovy would be prescribed to people with at least one weight-related condition and a BMI of 35 or more, or a BMI of 30 or more who are already being treated within the specialist NHS weight management service.

“Relying on private providers will almost certainly mean that some of those who need the drug most will not be able to get it,” said Richard Holt, professor of diabetes and endocrinology at the University of Southampton.

Reporting by Maggie Fick; Additional reporting by Alistair Smout in London; Editing by Joséphine Mason and Alexander Smith

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