GPs in England may start offering weight-loss jabs to some patients to reduce obesity-related illnesses and resultant pressure on hospitals.
Wegovy was approved for NHS use after research suggested users could shed over 10% of their body weight.
The drug blunts appetite, so users feel full and eat less.
Rishi Sunak said it could be a “game-changer” as he announced a £40 million pilot scheme to increase access to specialist weight management services.
But experts warn “skinny jabs” – widely used in the US and endorsed by many celebrities – are not a quick fix or a substitute for a healthy diet and exercise.
In trials, users often put weight back on after stopping treatment.
Similar injections, such as Ozempic and Mounjaro, which work in much the same way as Wegovy but are designed to treat diabetes, have not yet been approved for NHS use specifically for weight loss.
NHS drugs watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), says patients can access Wegovy for a maximum of two years via specialist weight-management services.
These are largely hospital based, meaning only about 35,000 have access, but the government says tens of thousands more could be eligible – although the UK has no supply of the drug yet.
The new scheme will test how GPs could safely prescribe such drugs and the NHS provide support in the community or digitally, contributing to the government’s wider ambition to reduce pressure on hospitals and give patients access to the care they need where it is most convenient for them.
Mr Sunak said: “Obesity puts huge pressure on the NHS.
“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.”
More than 12 million adults in England are obese, estimates suggest.
And some High Street chemists are set to sell Wegovy to customers, prescribing and dispensing a weekly jab they can inject themselves using pre-filled pen devices.
As with any medication, there can be side-effects and risks.
The most common are nausea or an upset stomach, bloating and gas.
NHS medical director Prof Sir Stephen Powis said: “Pharmaceutical treatments offer a new way of helping people with obesity gain a healthier weight and this new pilot will help determine if these medicines can be used safely and effectively in non-hospital settings as well as a range of other interventions we have in place.”
He said NHS England was negotiating with the manufacturer to secure long-term supplies at prices representing value for money for taxpayers.