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Wegovy woes: Nothing feels as good as big fat skinny profits

Wegovy and Ozempic are delivering fat profits from making people skinny. Manufacturer Novo Nordisk expects voluptuous $40bn sales in 2024, up 18% on 2023. But one doctor warns death will follow if the status quo continues...

Everyone has seen Hollywood’s curvier celebrities parading around looking emaciated. For the slimming industry it’s a feast of earned marketing from the biggest names in the world. Novo returned a bulbous £4bn profit last year as a result.

But strip back the showbiz and underneath it’s just another drug with accompanying side effects. It’s also being used for purposes outside what it was originally developed for. And though it allows patients to avoid the treadmill, those side effects are worse than a blister.

Read more: Young girl ends up in A&E after Boots prescribes her Wegovy

As this A&E doctor makes clear in an exclusive interview with C+D, what they witnessed with their own eyes, and with increasingly regularity, go beyond the range of gastro upsets that ribald British celebrities have been so open about.

They believe they are life threatening. And equally as concerning, according to them, is that this “young girl” did not require weight-loss jabs in the first place.

The weight-loss jab market is a fast-moving phenomenon, culturally and commercially. But the ability for pharmacies to prescribe weight loss jabs online and have them biked round at speed like a pizza is disquieting from a healthcare safety point of view.

Anyone armed with the determination to skip past rudimentary online checkpoints can inject themselves at home, possibly lose weight but for weird and unsustainable reasons, and potentially make themselves very ill in the process. No list of side effects is ever an entertaining read, but this is far from Hollywood glam.

Read more: ‘Clear message’: GPhC issues warnings for prescribing via online questionnaires

Should Boots be doing more? Perhaps it will investigate itself and decide to tighten up some areas where it identifies potential vulnerabilities. Or perhaps it’s already doing everything it can in an online setting, extremely comprehensively. Right up to the point where, inevitably, the basic observations a GP might perform in a physical setting are absent, allowing the potential for a misdiagnosis to exist. Side effects are one drawback. Patient suitability is another, arguably more serious one.

Put them both together and you arrive where we are today.

The pop-culture popularity of the Wegovy/Ozempic trend blurs the line between marketing and medicinal. Anyone can log on and after a few clicks (and £150) they can jab away a month’s supply, whether they are suitable or not. Maybe it is time for the situation to face a reckoning before it deteriorates further – perhaps even as far as the deaths this A&E doctor predicts.

Read more: Boots services up 40% thanks to ‘popular’ online weight loss service

If a grip needs to be got, then grip it sooner rather than later, because online pharmacy is the direction of travel and it’s not going to turn back now. And business is business. The decision to sell as much Wegovy as possible while it's trending is sharp retailing. Boots is one of many doing it. But what kind of healthcare sends patients to A&E?

The decision to tackle that issue rests with the regulators that allow this framework, not the retailers that exist within it. And it lies with any government that pushes this visibly short-sighted solution to a complex problem because it’s quicker, cheaper and easier. This government or the next should know it’s a silver bullet covered in vomit and crap – or worse.

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