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Weight loss jabs not a quick fix to get beach-body ready, warns top NHS doc

Powerful weight loss jabs are not “a quick fix for people trying to get ‘beach body ready’” this summer, England’s top doctor has warned.

Medics have sounded the alarm over patients ending up in A&E with life-threatening complications linked to the drugs.

And health chiefs are increasingly concerned that people who do not meet strict criteria for treatment are obtaining them online without proper supervision.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s medical director, said: “We know these new drugs will be a powerful part of our arsenal dealing with obesity – but they should not be abused.

“Buying medication online without a doctor’s supervision can lead to complications and dangerous consequences.”

READ MORE: ‘Game-changer’ weight loss jab study sparks race for prescriptions

Weight loss drugs including Wegovy and Ozempic have been hailed as revolutionary for obesity and related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, with a raft of studies showing myriad health benefits.

A landmark trial last month found that semaglutide – the active ingredient in many of the jabs – could slash risk of heart disease, stroke or death from cardiovascular disease by a fifth.

The findings prompted a leading cardiologist to say they may be the biggest breakthrough for cardiac care since statins.

Analysis of Google search data by Simple Online Pharmacy found there was an 865 percent spike in searches for “ozempic” after the research was unveiled at a conference.

Ozempic is only licensed for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, while others including Wegovy can be prescribed for weight loss.

The drugs should only be offered to adults with a body mass index of over 30 (categorised as obese), or over 27 (overweight) with at least one weight-related health condition.

Online pharmacies can prescribe them after patients’ applications have been reviewed by a clinician. But reports suggest people who are not overweight are receiving the jabs without thorough checks.

Speaking at the NHS ConfedExpo conference in Manchester, Sir Stephen said: “Drugs including Ozempic and Wegovy should only be used by people prescribed them for obesity or diabetes.

“I’m worried about reports that people are misusing them – they are not intended as a quick fix for people trying to get ‘beach body ready’.”

One A&E doctor claimed they had seen a “growing pattern” of patients experiencing complications.

The anonymous medic told Chemist + Druggist that a young girl who was not overweight arrived with life-threatening symptoms after obtaining Wegovy through Boots Online Doctor.

She was said to have entered starvation ketoacidosis, which occurs when a person has fasted for an extended period and their body begins to break down muscle to use as fuel.

The doctor told the trade news website that although online pharmacies ask for a photograph and weight information, patients can simply lie and submit an image of someone else.

Other medics have reported similar experiences. Dr Vicky Price, president-elect of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “I and many other colleagues in acute medicine across the UK are very concerned about the increasing numbers of patients we are seeing with complications from new weight loss drugs they have purchased online.

“Sadly we are seeing serious, life-threatening complications including inflammation of the pancreas gland and alterations in blood salt levels in these patients who were not aware of the risk they were taking.

“We have raised concerns about this inappropriate use with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

“There is a need for urgent regulation and control of access for weight loss drugs online to avoid more patients becoming unwell.”

Mark Voce, chief strategy officer at the General Pharmaceutical Council, said its guidance says pharmacies selling medicines at a distance must act to protect patient safety.

He added: “We take patient safety extremely seriously and will be looking into the issues raised by this clinician relating to the supply of weight-loss medicines by online pharmacies.

“Medicines are not ordinary items of commerce and must not be treated as such.

“We would expect a prescriber to be able to demonstrate that they have all the information they need to prescribe weight loss treatments safely – whether they are operating online or face-to-face.”

Measures could include verifying weight and height information and speaking directly to the patient rather than relying on an online questionnaire.

Mr Voce added: “Prescribers must also consider the person’s wellbeing given that eating disorders, body dysmorphia and mental health issues can play a part in the reason for requesting these medicines.”

A Boots spokesperson said: “We have a number of safeguards in place to ensure Boots Online Doctor prescribes weight loss medication where clinically appropriate and in line with the product licence.

“Patients are required to submit a photo of themselves and ID document for verification and must also answer questions on their medical and psychological history.”

Patients must also provide their GP’s details and Boots informs the GP of the prescription, the spokesperson added.


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