New £40m pilot to cut waiting lists and combat obesity, government announces

A new £40m pilot scheme is set to increase access to the newest and most effective treatments to combat obesity as the government moves to cut NHS waiting lists.

Health leaders hope that, by taking full advantage of the latest medicines like the recently recommended semaglutide, the health service can reduce the number of people with weight-related illnesses.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) say that semaglutide should only be accessible via specialist weight management services, meaning only around 35,000 people could benefit.

The idea is that the new pilots investigate how the provision of approved drugs like semaglutide can be safely expanded to benefit more people.

The government highlights the possibility of rolling out more specialist weight management services so they cover more than just hospital settings which is where they currently primarily reside. Helping GPs prescribe the drugs or enabling the NHS the ability to support access via the community and digitally are all options in this regard.

Working this way will be a “game-changer” for the NHS according to prime minister, Rishi Sunak, while health secretary, Steve Barclay, said the new pilot will “help people live longer, healthier lives.”

The news comes as obesity continues to be one of the main causes of severe health conditions like diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease with the government estimating it costs the health service approximately £6.5bn annually. There were also over one million obesity-related hospital admissions in 2019/20.

NHS England is already making the necessary arrangements so it can implement NICE’s recommendations as the regulator also considers the drug known as tirzepatide for this type of treatment class.

All this comes alongside current government action against obesity which includes the introduction of calorie labelling on menus which is tied to around £430m of NHS savings, and restrictions on the location of unhealthy foods in shops which the government anticipates will bring savings north of £4bn for the health services over the next 25 years.

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NHE May/June 2024

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