Slim women end up in A&E after ‘lying’ to get weight-loss jabs

Patients are reported to have lied to obtain injections despite being too slim to be eligible
Patients are reported to have lied to obtain injections despite being too slim to be eligible - Hollie Adams/REUTERS

Slim young women are trying to get “beach body ready” by using weight-loss jabs, Britain’s most senior doctor has warned, amid reports of users ending up in A&E.

Prof Sir Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, has raised concerns about patients who have lied to obtain injections despite being too slim to be eligible.

He intervened as senior medics warned that A&E units were now treating casualties of Wegovy injections – marketed as Ozempic for diabetes – on a daily basis.

The medicine is available privately from online pharmacies, which are supposed to only prescribe to those who meet particular criteria, including being obese or overweight and suffering from weight-related health problems.

But experts say customers, especially girls and young women, are lying about their weight, and staging photographs which exaggerate their size, to get hold of the injections, in an attempt to slim for the summer.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has said that semaglutide, the generic name for Wegovy, should “only” be used by patients with a body mass index (BMI) of at least 35 and “at least one weight-related comorbidity” or who meet other specific guidelines.

Prof Powis 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.

“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’.”

He told the NHS Confed Expo conference in Manchester that the new class of weight-loss jabs would play an important part in tackling Britain’s obesity epidemic.

But he said: “It does alarm me, though, when I hear reports that they are being inappropriately used. These are powerful medications that have side effects and complications. And can in certain circumstances, be dangerous. So, they need to be used under medical supervision. They are absolutely not quick fixes. For those who are otherwise healthy, who just want to lose a few pounds.”

Dr Vicky Price, president-elect of the Society for Acute Medicine, said medics were treating patients suffering serious problems, such as pancreatitis and ketoacidosis, after taking injections they should never have been prescribed.

She said: “Almost every shift I’ve done recently has seen a complication from a young girl taking the new weight-loss drugs that they’ve bought from an online pharmacy.

“None have been overweight. They’ve paid £100-£200 and just lied about their weight.”

She added: “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.”

One medic told Chemist + Druggist magazine that they had treated several such patients, including one who ended up in intensive care after presenting with pancreatitis.

By the time the patient arrived in A&E, she could not stand up and appeared about to pass out, after struggling to eat while on the jabs.

The doctor said she was not at all overweight, but said they found “two or three” online pharmacies that allowed them to bypass the rules.

“I just look at these young, beautiful girls. Oh, my word…it really makes me very sad,” the medic said.

“At some point, we’re going to have a death, aren’t we? And then at that point, people might do something about it.”

The medic said she was “absolutely staggered” to learn that the girl had got the drugs from Boots Online Doctor.

A spokesman from Boots said: “The Boots Online Doctor weight loss service is for patients aged 18 and over who are worried that their weight is impacting their health to access prescription treatment to support weight loss.

“Patients are required to complete an online consultation, which is reviewed by a Boots Online Doctor clinician to determine if treatment is appropriate.

“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 are only supplied with a prescription if they provide their GP’s details. Boots Online Doctor informs each patient’s GP of the prescription as an additional safety measure and may contact the patient’s GP if required.

“All patients receive follow-up care and support from Boots Online Doctor clinicians through the platform’s messaging function and clinicians may also call patients if required.”

Mark Voce, the General Pharmaceutical Council’s chief strategy officer, said: “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.”

He said the regulator had responded to concerns and stopped some pharmacies from supplying medication.