Fat-busting drug will be made available on NHS

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A new drug that helps obese people lose weight by restricting the digestion of fats will become available to thousands of patients on the NHS, at anestimated cost of £12m.

A new drug that helps obese people lose weight by restricting the digestion of fats will become available to thousands of patients on the NHS, at anestimated cost of £12m.

The decision of the Government's clinical watchdog to clear the drug for prescription in England and Wales was welcomed by clinicians, who said patients must lose 2.5kg (5.5lb) by dieting and exercise in the month before their first prescription. Those prescribed the drug Orlistat (Xenical) must be either seriously overweight and have another serious illness such as diabetes or high blood pressure, or clinically obese with no other illness.

One in five British adults is obese and 30,000 people die prematurely every year partly from weight problems. Levels of obesity have tripled in 20 years and the problem is estimated to cost £2.5bn a year in NHS bills and lost output.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) believes 11,000 people are eligible for treatment. Professor Peter Littlejohns, its clinical director, said: "Obesity has a major impact on a person's physical, social and emotional well-being and health."

The drug is the first anti-obesity treatment that is not an appetite suppressant. It works in the gut by blocking the absorption of fat so it is excreted rather than ending up on the thighs or hips.

Dr Ian Campbell, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: "The decision underlines the importance of treating obesity and the overweight, an epidemic having an alarming impact on our nation's health. We can reduce the burden of disease linked to obesity, such as coronary heart disease and diabetes."

So far, 8.5 million people worldwide, including Scots, have used the drug, which costs £41.16 a month per patient. Treatment is usually limited to two years.

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