Saxenda is one of several drugs that has experienced a boom in popularity over the past year, offering people the possibility of effective and sustained weight loss through a simple injection pen.
As Saxenda has been flying off the shelves, it has made it considerably harder to get your hands on. If you do choose to buy it privately, it can also come at a significant cost.
One consideration for people living in the UK is whether they can get a prescription via the NHS, which is far more affordable. Here we explore whether Saxenda is available on the NHS, as well as what your other alternatives may be for getting a prescription.
What is Saxenda, and how does it work?
Saxenda is the branded drug name for liraglutide. Liraglutide is a type of GLP-1 agonist (also known as GLP-1s). There are other commercially popular types of GLP-1, such as semaglutide—which you may know under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy.
Unlike Ozempic and Wegovy, which were originally designated for people with type 2 diabetes, Saxenda has been specifically approved for weight management, prescribed to individuals with obesity and weight related chronic diseases.
So how does Saxenda work? GLP-1s like liraglutide mimic a naturally occurring gut hormone called incretin, which is naturally released after you have eaten. This induces a number of effects in your body, including:
- Increasing your insulin response and raising the concentration of glucose and fatty acids in the bloodstream 
- Slowing down food leaving your gut, meaning that you stay fuller for longer 
- Decreasing the perceived “reward” of eating 
The combination of these effects can have a significant impact on you losing weight, hence why it has become such a popular treatment for weight loss.
Saxenda is taken daily, and comes as a multi-use injection pen. As you follow a course of Saxenda medication, the titration of the doses increase, to ensure that it has the maximum impact without inducing significant side effects.
Can you get Saxenda on the NHS?
Saxenda has been available on the NHS via prescription since 2020. That said, it is not a simple process to get a prescription for it. You will struggle to get a GP to directly prescribe Saxenda to you.
Saxenda is available through specialist weight management services, and you will only be prescribed it if you meet strict criteria (you have a BMI over 50, or if your BMI is between 35-49 and you have other related health problems).
To receive treatment from this specialist weight management service, there is likely to be a considerable waiting list, meaning you may be waiting a while to receive the prescription.
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Other methods for getting a Saxenda prescription
So what are your alternatives with regards to getting hold of Saxenda?
One strong alternative is to get a private prescription to Saxenda via online pharmacies or digital health platforms. The advantage of this is you won’t have to pay for an in-person consultation, and your medication is shipped directly to your door.
You also might consider alternatives to Saxenda, such as Ozempic or Wegovy. There are pros and cons to weigh up between Saxenda and Wegovy, including taking into account their various side effects. That said, studies suggest that Ozempic and Wegovy are in fact more effective than Saxenda. Over a 52-week trial, those on semaglutide lost 11.2-13.8% of their weight, while those on liraglutide lost just 7-8% .
As part of its weight loss treatment, Habitual offers access to private prescriptions for Wegovy. Wegovy is also prescribed on the NHS, but has similar challenges around waiting times and specific criteria to qualify you for a prescription.
Getting a private prescription for Wegovy also comes at a higher cost. On Habitual, costs start from £345 per month, compared to the much lower NHS prescription cost (at time of writing, £9.65 per item)—but this comes as part of a package of holistic weight loss support. Alongside your medication, you’ll receive access to on-going support from medical professionals, as well as joining a Whatsapp community group for peer support. Find out more here.
Additional advice for taking GLP-1s
While GLP-1s like semaglutide and liraglutide can have a huge impact on your weight loss journey, it’s important not to see them as a ‘magic pill’. Any medication should also be accompanied by broader lifestyle changes that will help you lose weight.
Diet is of great importance here. Implementing better choices around what and how much you eat will have a huge impact in ensuring drugs like Saxenda can have their full effect. Replacing high fat and ultra-processed foods as well as simple carbohydrates with more vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and fibrous foods will certainly help keep up momentum with your weight loss journey.
This should also be accompanied by exercise, aiming for 30 minutes a day, five times a week. Make sure this is consistent and varied, to avoid becoming bored with the same exercise routines.
On top of these things, lowering your alcohol intake (or cutting it out altogether) as well as stopping smoking can have a positive impact on your weight and your wider health.
Getting a prescription for Saxenda on the NHS is possible, but certainly isn’t easy. Ultimately, your decision is a trade-off between the low cost of getting an NHS prescription versus the waiting times and assessment process you’re likely to endure should you pursue it.
Alternatively, private prescriptions, whether that’s for Saxenda or for similar medications like Ozempic and Wegovy, can accelerate some of this process, while also offering holistic support to help you along your weight loss journey. If you feel this is worth paying the additional cost for, then it’s certainly worth your consideration.
 Kapitza, C., Dahl, K., Jacobsen, J., et al. (2017). Effects of semaglutide on beta cell function and glycaemic control in participants with type 2 diabetes: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, Diabetologia, 60(8): 1390–1399. Accessible here
 Friedrichsen, M., Breitschaft, A., Tadayon, S., et al (2020). The effect of semaglutide 2.4 mg once weekly on energy intake, appetite, control of eating, and gastric emptying in adults with obesity, Diabetes Obes Metab, 23(3), 754-762. Accessible here
 Blundell, J., Finlayson, G., Axelson, M., et al (2017). Effects of once‐weekly semaglutide on appetite, energy intake, control of eating, food preference and body weight in subjects with obesity, Diabetes Obes Metab, 19(9): 1242–1251. Accessible here
 O’Neil, P., Barkenfield, A., McGowan, B., et al (2018). Efficacy and safety of semaglutide compared with liraglutide and placebo for weight loss in patients with obesity: a randomised, double-blind, placebo and active controlled, dose-ranging, phase 2 trial, The Lancet, Vol.392 Issue 10148, p637-649. Accessible here