HSE called on to make obesity treatment available

Lowers weight and reduces risk of diabetes
  • Deborah Condon

The HSE is being called on to make a new injection-based drug treatment for obesity available to all suitable patients in Ireland.

The drug, Saxenda, is recommended for patients with a body mass index (BMI) of over 35, who have pre-diabetes and are at high risk of cardiovascular disease. It was recently approved for public use in the UK's NHS.

This decision followed a major international trial on the efficacy of the drug, which was led by Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (IrSPEN) member, Prof Carel le Roux, who works at UCD's Diabetes Complications Research Centre.

Prof le Roux called on the HSE to make the drug available to all suitable patients in Ireland, noting that those on the treatment were proven to achieve weight loss, and were 80% less likely to go on to develop type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes currently affects around 200,000 people in Ireland and accounts for over 10% of the overall healthcare budget. Obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes and is also linked with poorer outcomes from COVID-19.

"It has never been more important for the healthcare community to prioritise supporting people living with obesity, given its strong links to poorer outcomes with COVID-19, as well as a range of other conditions including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

"The addition of this treatment in the NHS is fantastic news, as it offers the potential to help patients while alleviating pressure on healthcare systems," Prof le Roux commented.

According to St Vincent's University Hospital consultant endocrinologist and IrSPEN member, Dr Karl Neff, this drug is already available to private patients in Ireland, however it is hoped that it will also become available to public patients.

"The issues of obesity and type 2 diabetes remain high on the political and media agenda because of COVID-19 and it is critical that this is now met with evidence-based solutions. Obesity has multiple causes and requires long-term management, and it is important that the clinical community and patients have access to effective treatment options available to the HSE," he said.

John Kane is a patient who was treated with the medication as part of the UCD trial. He explained that he has struggled to manage his own weight and highlighted how important it is "that individuals receive long-term professional support to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way".

"For the majority of people living with obesity, dietary interventions and exercise alone are not sufficient to induce ongoing weight loss and maintenance, due to their bodies functioning differently, and so appropriate treatment options can be helpful and necessary.

"This medication has transformed my life during the clinical trial, but I and many people like me are not able to access this medication in Ireland," he noted.

The drug is administered by injection on a daily basis and is combined with lifestyle modifications. It helps to regulate appetite by increasing feelings of fullness while lowering feelings of hunger and prospective food consumption, leading to reduced food intake.


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