Our Head of Care Douglas Twenefour clarifies the main points to be aware of with Wegovy, including who it is recommended for and how it works.
What is Wegovy?
Wegovy is a brand name for semaglutide, a glucagon-like peptide receptor agonist, or GLP-1 analogue. It is a weight loss drug manufactured by Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk.
NICE issued guidelines in 2023 recommending Wegovy be prescribed to people who have a particular BMI (usually 30kg/m2 and over) and at least one weight-related health condition.
NICE recommends that Wegovy can be prescribed to people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes as an option for weight management within a specialist weight management service. This will depend on a person’s personal circumstances, and factors such as their current treatment plan and risk of side effects.
Wegovy is now available in the UK
In September 2023, Novo Nordisk announced that a limited supply of Wegovy would soon begin to reach many people living with obesity including some people with type 2 diabetes, or at risk of type 2 diabetes, through a ‘controlled and limited launch’.
Wegovy will become available to people in specialist NHS weight management services who meet the NICE eligibility criteria, or privately through a registered healthcare professional.
People who are prescribed Wegovy within these specialist NHS services will also receive support with dietary advice and exercise.
Wegovy cannot yet be prescribed outside of specialist weight management services, but in June 2023 the Department of Health announced a two-year pilot to tackle obesity, which will explore how Wegovy can be prescribed outside of these services, which are largely hospital based.
The government says the NICE recommendations mean that around 35,000 people will have access to Wegovy, but to make it available to more people who could be eligible, the pilot will explore how GPs could safely offer Wegovy, and how the NHS can provide support in the community or digitally. These pilots are still in development and not yet up and running.
Currently, Wegovy, Saxenda and Orlistat are the only medications that are licensed and approved for weight loss in the UK.
Unfortunately, with no Tier 3 weight management services in operation in Northern Ireland, Wegovy is currently unable to be prescribed through the health service.
The Department of Health is currently consulting on the establishment of a Regional Obesity Management Service. Once in place, this will enable health service prescribing of GLP-1 weight loss medication specifically to people living with overweight and obesity.
GLP-1 RA supply issues latest
There are ongoing supply issues of GLP-1 RAs. You can read our response to these supply issues.
A new National Patient Safety Alert issued in January 2024 by NHS England and the Department for Health and Social Care said that supply of GLP-1 RAs is not expected to return to normal until at least the end of 2024.
Novo Nordisk, which manufactures Ozempic and Wegovy, has also advised that Ozempic is likely to be impacted by intermittent supply shortages running into 2025.
Drugs such as Wegovy are an important and valid weight management tool for those living with or at risk of type 2 diabetes, and it is our view that people should be supported to find the approach that is most appropriate for them – whether that involves medication, dietary changes or bariatric surgery – with the wraparound support of weight loss management services.
What are the differences between the different semaglutide brand names?
Semaglutide is also licensed under the brand names Ozempic and Rybelsus, which are recommended by NICE and available on the NHS for managing blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
- Ozempic and Rybelsus are recommended to manage blood glucose in people with type 2 diabetes
- Wegovy is recommended for weight management in people with or without type 2 diabetes.
Wegovy and weight loss
Wegovy can lead to weight loss because it is designed to suppress appetite so you eat less. It mimics the action of a gut hormone called GLP-1, which is released after eating, and it slows down the movement of food in your gut so you stay full for longer.
The amount of weight you lose on Wegovy would depend on your personal circumstances, the support you receive and how long you are on the medication for.
In a major study, the STEP 1 clinical trial, people on the maximum dose lost 12% more of their body weight compared to those who were not on the medication. Crucially, both groups received advice to reduce their calorie intake, and increase their physical activity levels, which shows the importance of making those changes to get the best out of any weight loss medications.
Like other weight loss medications, there is evidence of weight regain when people stop using Wegovy so it is important to continue to receive support in making changes to your diet and physical activity levels.
Does Wegovy have side effects?
Nausea is a common side effect when first starting Wegovy, while other side effects can include constipation and diarrhoea.
If you have diabetic eye disease (retinopathy) and are using insulin, then Wegovy may lead to a worsening of your vision, and this may require treatment. Tell your doctor if you have diabetic eye disease or if you experience eye problems during treatment with this medication.
More information about the side effects will be contained in the Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) which comes in the box of the medication.
It is important that a person takes individual advice from their healthcare team before starting a new prescription of Wegovy, and reports any side effects.
What should I do if I want to be prescribed weight loss medication?
Some blood glucose lowering medications for people with type 2 diabetes such as GLP-1 analogues and SGLT2 inhibitors can lead to weight loss, but these are not weight loss drugs.
There are currently two other weight loss medications available on the NHS: Xenical (generic name Orlistat) which is a capsule, and Saxenda which is a brand name for liraglutide, a type of GLP-1 analogue that is injected daily.
Within the NHS, Wegovy and Saxenda can only be prescribed within a specialist weight management service. So, speak to your GP to discuss a referral to a service in your area.
Orlistat works by limiting the amount of fat your body absorbs from the food you eat, and can be prescribed by your GP. There is another brand name for Orlistat which is called alli and this can be bought without prescription.
It is important to speak to your GP, nurse or dietitian to discuss weight management options, including weight loss medication, that may be helpful for you.
More information and support
- Ring our helpline with any questions or concerns on 0345 123 2399
- Learn more about treating diabetes with tablets and medication.