Is Ozempic available on the NHS?

Diabetes jab Ozempic has seen huge demand in the US and the UK. But can you access Ozempic through the NHS?
Team Habitual
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Quick summary

  • Ozempic is licensed for type 2 diabetes, meaning that the NHS will only prescribe it for patients with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes
  • Wegovy, which contains the same compound as Ozempic but is licensed for weight loss is now available in the UK
  • You can obtain Wegovy with a private prescription and it is available to a limited number of people via the NHS
  • At present, those looking to lose weight can't get Ozempic prescribed off-label for weight loss

For decades, people have searched for a silver bullet for weight loss. From fad diets to new workout regimes, each has had its time in the limelight. Now, there’s a new approach in town—a weight loss jab containing a compound called semaglutide, sold under the names Ozempic and Wegovy. 

Ozempic was originally intended as a treatment to help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugars. But patients quickly started experiencing weight loss as a “side effect”, and so the medication manufacturer relicensed Ozempic for weight loss—and called it Wegovy. 

Numerous people have proclaimed its benefits, saying it's helped them shed anywhere up to 10% of their body weight. Given how effective it is, the demand for these medications has skyrocketed, leading many patients in the US to seek an “off label” prescription (e.g. for purposes other than what it is licenced for) of Ozempic for weight loss when they can’t obtain Wegovy. 

Many in the UK will now be wondering: is Ozempic available from the NHS? Here, we’ll share everything you need to know about this new treatment option, and if and how you can access it in the UK. 

How does Ozempic work?

Ozempic belongs to a class of medications called GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) analogs. GLP-1 analogs have been used for years, and in many different forms (such as semaglutide, liraglutide, tirzepatide, and dulaglutide), as a treatment for type 2 diabetes. As newer versions of GLP-1s were also shown to lead to significant weight loss, some GLP-1s are being relicensed as weight loss medications.

As mentioned above, Ozempic is the brand name for injectable semaglutide indicated for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Semaglutide is also available in tablet form (called Rybelsus), and in a higher dose indicated for weight loss (called Wegovy).

So how does semaglutide (in all its forms) actually work? Well, it mimics a naturally occurring gut hormone called incretin. Incretin is released naturally after you’ve eaten, and semaglutide is simply a synthetic version of it. Incretin (and therefore semaglutide) has a number of effects, including the following: 

  • It increases your insulin response and raises the concentration of glucose and fatty acids in the bloodstream [1]
  • It slows down the food leaving your gut, meaning that you stay fuller for longer [2]
  • It may also decrease the perceived “reward” of eating [3]

In aggregate, semaglutide significantly decreases the feeling of hunger, leading to fewer cravings, reduced portion size, and, as a result, decreased calorie intake. 

Ozempic itself is taken as a weekly injection that comes as a pre-prepared syringe, each one containing four weekly injections. It is meant to be prescribed alongside a health coaching and a behavioural change programme to help incorporate the medication alongside healthier behaviours.

As with most medications, some people taking Ozempic (and the other versions of semaglutide, Rybelsus and Wegovy) may experience side effects. The most common side effects are gastrointestinal, including nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, and vomiting.[4]

Is Ozempic available on the NHS?

Firstly, it’s important to know that Ozempic is not available over the counter, so you’ll need a prescription to access the medication. Anyone who sells Ozempic without taking a medical history and writing a prescription for you will be doing so illegally. It is possible to get a prescription for Ozempic from the NHS, or privately, assuming you meet certain conditions.

There are a few ways to answer whether Ozempic is available from the NHS.

The easy answer is “yes”, NHS doctors do prescribe Ozempic, however there are quite a few qualifiers which determine whether you’ll be able to get an NHS Ozempic prescription. The most important one to flag is that Ozempic is only indicated for type 2 diabetes—so only those with a diagnosis of type 2 will be able to access Ozempic via the NHS. It’s also not necessarily available to anyone with type 2 diabetes: if you’d like to try it out, talk to your doctor to see whether you might be eligible for treatment.  

Wegovy (semaglutide for weight loss) is available on NHS prescription for obese patients with weight-related health conditions such as high blood pressure or heart disease. Patients will be offered the drug for up to two years as part of a specialist weight management programme [5]. Wegovy will only be available to about 35,000 patients per year on the NHS, so private providers (like Habitual!) will continue to offer these medications to those who are ineligible, or unable to access them via their NHS doctor.

Ozempic and type 2 diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes, should you be interested in drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy, and semaglutide? 

There are a number of reasons why semaglutide is considered an effective treatment for managing type 2 diabetes. Ozempic is effective at managing your blood sugar levels, and producing more insulin when your body needs it. 

Ozempic is also a considerably reliable way to achieve sustained weight loss over a longer period of time. This can be one of the hardest aspects of any weight loss programme or low calorie diet—actually keeping the weight off. With a drug like Ozempic, the chances of reaching and maintaining a healthy weight are significantly higher. Given that obesity is increasingly considered a chronic condition, these medications could be one effective long-term solution.

It’s important to bear in mind that, when tackling type 2 diabetes, any medication should always come alongside a healthy lifestyle. This should include things like implementing a well-rounded healthy diet, regular exercise, and cutting out unhealthy risk factors like smoking and excessive drinking.

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[1] 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

[2] 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

[3] 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

[4] Ozempic and weight loss: the facts behind the headlines. Diabetes UK, January 20th 2023. Accessible here

[5] Ozempic-style weight loss jab to be available on NHS. The Times, March 8th 2023. Accessible here

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