Steve Barclay, Health and Social Care Secretary has written the following blog:

There is no denying the huge costs obesity brings to the NHS, the economy and society.

Every year, billions of pounds is spent on treating the condition and associated illnesses. That adds up to a significant strain on the NHS at a time when staff are already doing their utmost to cut waiting times.

On top of that, the economy suffers as productivity falls in workplaces where staff are frequently absent due to obesity-related ill health.

Most concerning of all is the human cost. Obesity is the second biggest cause of cancer after smoking and is linked to other life-threatening conditions, including stroke and diabetes.

But now there is hope of a new approach to tackling this health challenge. Earlier this year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) approved the drug Wegovy for use in the NHS for weight loss. It will be made available to some people living with obesity and at least one weight-related health condition like diabetes or high blood pressure. Another promising drug, Tirzepatide, is also expected to be assessed by NICE for weight loss.

This new generation of weight loss drugs has the potential to help eligible patients lose around 15% of their body weight when prescribed alongside diet, physical activity and behavioural support. This will not conquer obesity outright, but does provide away to ease pressure on the NHS and cut waiting lists.

Initially, only around 35,000 people were due to get access to Wegovy following the drug’s UK launch because the specialist expertise needed to support the treatment is currently largely based in hospitals. This threatened to severely limit the numbers who could benefit.

I want to go further to ensure more people living with obesity can be helped by this cutting-edge treatment to reduce their weight and their risk of suffering associated health conditions.

The £40 million two-year pilot scheme the Prime Minister and I have announced will explore how obesity drugs and the accompanying support approved by NICE can be made available to eligible people outside hospitals. It could mean GPs prescribing these drugs, with the NHS providing additional support in the community or digitally. 

The pilots will be designed by people who know the NHS and the needs of people living with obesity, staff working in primary and community care organisations and specialist weight management services.

This exciting development in our fight against obesity builds on the firm action we’re already taking on prevention. People are being empowered to make better choices through calorie labelling on menus, and the restrictions on where unhealthy foods are placed in supermarkets is helping to reduce the “pester power” of children and will help to save the NHS some £4 billion.

Cutting-edge technology will also play a key role in helping people live healthier lives. We’re trialling a new app in Wolverhampton which rewards people for eating healthily and exercising more. The £20 million for the Office for Life Science’s Obesity Mission announced last year will explore how we can use digital technologies and medicines to help NHS patients achieve a healthy weight.

We are also doing more to tackle the major long-term health conditions that research shows one in four people in England live with, including cancer and cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and diabetes.

We will soon publish a Major Conditions Strategy setting out how we plan to tackle six major conditions. But the more we can do to tackle obesity, the better our chances of preventing people from experiencing one or more of these linked groups of conditions that drive ill-health and contribute to the burden of disease in England.

Our plans have the potential to transform the way obesity is treated, reducing pressure on the NHS, boosting the economy and improving hundreds of thousands of lives.

Steve Barclay, Health and Social Care Secretary

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