Weight loss jab Wegovy is now available on the NHS, but only to patients on specialist weight management services.
The weekly injection is being made available in the UK as part of a “controlled and limited launch” for those on the services and alongside a calorie controlled diet from 4 September.
The drug, also known as semaglutide will be eligible for those who have a body mass index (BMI) over 30 or a BMI of more than 27 and at least one weight-related co-morbidity.
The National Institute for Care and Excellence (Nice) gave Wegovy the green light for NHS use earlier this year and its guidance said it should be used for a “maximum” of two years. About 50,000 NHS patients in England could be prescribed Wegovy, an NHS spokesperson said, but the drug is in short supply.
Wegovy manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, has since confirmed semaglutide is in short supply and said it expects it “to be constrained for the foreseeable future”.
A “proportion of available supply” has been allocated to NHS services.
“We will continue to work with healthcare professionals to help ensure that patients with the highest unmet medical needs are prioritised,” the company said.
“We are closely monitoring Wegovy demand and are working with regulators and providers to ensure people living with obesity can have access to and remain on treatment.”
Novo Nordisk said it believes the launch of the drug in the UK “will help provide an additional option to support people living with obesity”.
In June, the government announced a £40 million pilot to expand access to weight-loss jabs to tackle obesity.
Speaking at the time, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the drug could be a “game-changer”.
“Obesity puts huge pressure on the NHS,” he said. “Using 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 – reducing pressure on hospitals, supporting people to live healthier and longer lives, and helping to deliver on my priority to cut NHS waiting lists.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “Despite global supply constraints, NHS England is taking action to begin implementing Nice guidance for weight management, while at the same time working to restore supplies of this class of drug for people with type 2 diabetes.
“Around 50,000 eligible patients in England could be prescribed Wegovy through NHS specialist weight management services, that are able to provide appropriate multidisciplinary care.”
The drug will also be available privately, but the manufacturer has not disclosed how much this will cost. In the US, the drug sells for as much as $1,350 (£1,070) a month.
A five-year study by Novo Nordisk, known as the Select trial, found the drug can cut the risk of a heart attack or stroke in obese people with cardiovascular disease by a fifth.
It included 17,604 adults over the age of 45 from across 41 countries, each with a BMI of more than 27 and established cardiovascular disease, with no history of diabetes.
Amendments have been made as this article previously said Ozempic and Wegovy are the same drug