More people in Buckinghamshire prescribed anti-obesity drug

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More people took the anti-obesity drug orlistat in Buckshamshire last year, new figures show.

This comes as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recently approved NHS England's use of another diet drug, Semaglutide.

Orlistat is currently the main weight loss drug prescribed by the NHS and was approved for use in 2010.

Orlistat is usually sold under the brand name Xenical and is available on a doctor's prescription or in a pharmacy where it must be taken under the supervision of a pharmacist.

The tablet works by preventing about one-third of food fat from being absorbed by the body.

Figures from the NHS OpenPrescribing service show that throughout 2022, GPs issued 1,500 prescriptions for orlistat in the former NHS Buckinghamshire CCG area, at a total cost to the NHS of £41,400.

That's up from 1,380 the year before but down from pre-pandemic levels when 1,680 prescriptions were filled in 2019.

There have been 7,630 orlistat prescriptions in Buckinghamshire over the past five years – costing around £194,600 in healthcare costs.

The Obesity Health Alliance, which welcomed the approval of semaglutide, said the drug alone would not solve Britain's overweight problem.

“We need to act to ensure that as few people as possible reach the stage where medical or surgical intervention is required,” it said.

The root causes of obesity must be addressed, including the level of marketing and promotion of unhealthy foods and beverages, the OHA added.

Across England, GPs will write around 360,000 orlistat prescriptions in 2022.

That's up from the previous three years, but down from 370,000 in 2018. Overall, weight loss drug prescriptions cost health services £9.8m last year.

Beat, a charity that supports people with eating disorders, has warned that diet pills may seem like a “quick fix” but can have a devastating effect on people with eating disorders.

Tom Quinn, the charity's director of external affairs, said: “We know that misdiagnosis is common: our own research has found that almost a quarter of people who seek help for binge eating disorder are referred to an eating plan.”

Screening for eating disorders is imperative for frontline healthcare professionals and weight management services when considering prescribing weight-loss drugs, Quinn added.

Semaglutide, marketed under the brand name Wegovy, will be available in NHS specialist weight management services and will be prescribed alongside a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity.

Helen Knight, director of drug evaluation at NICE, said the drug was a “welcome option” for those struggling to lose weight.

“It won't be open to everyone. Our committee has made specific recommendations to make sure it's good value for the taxpayer and it will only be available for a maximum of two years.”

Only adults with at least two weight-related diseases and a high body mass index are eligible for the injection.

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