‘A minefield’: Contractors left in the dark over 'unfair' Wegovy stock quotas
Pharmacy contractors have expressed their frustration after facing “disgraceful” Wegovy purchasing quotas from a major wholesaler, while an online pharmacy has been able to purchase at least 10 times more stock.
Pharmacy contractors told C+D that they are only able to offer Wegovy weight management services to “one weight loss patient…per month” due to strict purchasing quotas for the weight loss jab.
A spokesperson for Wegovy manufacturer Novo Nordisk said that supply “will continue to be constrained” with NHS access “prioritised” and that it has “restricted quantities to create a steady level of supply”.
Wholesaler Alliance refused to provide any clarification regarding ordering quotas but said it “strives to distribute available stock to allow all customers to access Wegovy”.
Neil Gathani, senior pharmacist at north London's Caledonian Pharmacy, told C+D that there has been “complete disarray with the release of Wegovy”, which launched in the UK at the start of last month.
He claimed that despite ordering the weight loss jab as soon as it became available from the drug’s distributor Alliance, “none” was initially delivered to him.
After contacting customer support, he was told he was only allowed to purchase one dose of each strength of Wegovy per month.
Patients on Wegovy start by taking an injection of the lowest dosage of the drug once a week, increasing the dose every four weeks.
But Mr Gathani said that because patients must start on the lowest dose, the quota he was given creates a limit of “one weight loss patient per pharmacy per month, which is just disgraceful”.
Olivier Picard, contractor and managing director at Newdays Pharmacy, also told C+D that Alliance told him Wegovy was “subject to quota restrictions” and that he was allowed to have “one [strength] per pharmacy per month” despite him already having “four patients lined up”.
“That is not a reasonable quota, it is not helpful to anyone,” he said.
Invoices seen by C+D show that between September 4 and September 9, Mr Picard only received one dose of each strength of Wegovy injections despite multiple attempts to order more.
He told C+D yesterday (October 25) that almost two months after the launch of Wegovy, his pharmacies are “still unable to get more than one pen of each strength per month”.
“This is an extremely frustrating situation” as well as being “hugely disappointing for both pharmacies and more importantly patients”, he said.
And Graham Thoms, chief executive of pharmacy service provider Pharmadoctor, told C+D that pharmacists providing Pharmadoctor’s weight management services are facing the same “one dose” quota that means they’re “only getting enough for one new patient every month”.
“A lot of our partner pharmacists at phoning, going, ‘Look, can you solve this?’ …They're banging their heads against a brick wall,” he added.
Meanwhile, C+D has learned that at least one online pharmacy has not been subject to the same ordering restrictions.
C+D has seen photographic evidence showing that Simple Online Pharmacy received at least eleven doses of one strength of Wegovy in the first two days after its UK launch – more than 10 times the amount than Mr Picard and Mr Gathani claimed they were able to order in a month.
A spokesperson for Simple Online Pharmacy declined to disclose specific volumes.
But they told C+D that the online pharmacy “immediately ordered” Wegovy on the same day it was released (September 4) and that “it was delivered to [the business's] warehouse that same afternoon” – with the pharmacy ordering “as much stock as [it was] able to” and receiving what it ordered.
The spokesperson said that Simple Online Pharmacy has “no insight into how supply decisions have been made” but that “as one of the larger providers of weight care medication in the UK”, they “believe the stock made available to [the online pharmacy] is in line with [its] scale”.
They also confirmed to C+D earlier this month (October 5) that Simple Online Pharmacy was “receiving regular deliveries of stock” and is “continuing to migrate patients that have been on a weight care journey with [it] onto Wegovy”.
At the same time, both Mr Gathani and Mr Picard claimed they were aware of Boots pharmacies that seemed to be able to access more stock than them.
And Mr Thoms told C+D that Boots Online Doctor is “certainly not getting one [stock] allocation a month” considering the “scale” of the service.
“It doesn't sound like it's fair,” he added.
A Boots spokesperson declined to comment on stock levels but said that “Wegovy is one of the prescription medicines available” via the Boots Online Doctor weight loss treatment service.
The service “provides access to an online consultation with a clinician, prescription treatment if appropriate, and dedicated aftercare and support for people who are worried that their weight is impacting their health”, they said.
“An absolute minefield”
Contractors stressed that by not being able to secure larger volumes of the drug, independent pharmacies are losing out.
Mr Picard said that “bricks-and-mortar pharmacies…have a great opportunity to offer a service beyond” those offered by online pharmacies where “all [patients] have to do is fill in a form [online] and they get given the medication”.
“With [my service] you get measured, you get weighed, you get support with how to use the medication…but we can't offer the service because we can't get hold of the stock,” he said.
Mr Gathani told C+D that the quotas have resulted in a 75% reduction in customers for his weight loss clinic, which “was booming” a year and a half ago, "because there's no point me publicising [that] 'I do Wegovy' if I then turn around and say, 'Well, we can't get it.'"
And he added that navigating Wegovy stock was not only “an absolute minefield” for himself but is also negatively impacting his customers.
He told C+D that the stock issues have prompted “a mental breakdown” for one of his patients whose “mental health has been so badly affected by this situation…she has been in tears for a month”.
Both Mr Gathani and Mr Picard told C+D that they had contacted Alliance’s customer service for help multiple times to no avail.
Alliance and Novo Nordisk respond
Alliance refused to provide C+D with any clarification about Wegovy ordering quotas or why there might be differences between the amount of stock pharmacies are able to purchase.
Responding to the claims, an Alliance spokesperson said last week (October 20) that its “pharmacy customers should continue to order Wegovy in the usual way”.
They encouraged “customers to use Alliance Healthcare Direct to check the latest stock availability information”, adding that the company’s customer service team “is available to support any customer queries”.
They previously told C+D that Alliance “strives to distribute available stock to allow all customers to access Wegovy”.
A Novo Nordisk spokesperson told C+D last week (October 20) that “supply of Wegovy…will continue to be constrained and supply to the NHS via specialist weight management services will be prioritised”.
“There will be some people trying to access the product via private prescriptions dispensed in a retail pharmacy who may not be able to access Wegovy,” they added.
But they said that the manufacturer is “closely monitoring demand and [has] restricted quantities to create a steady level of supply, ensuring people living with obesity that start on treatment can remain on treatment”.