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Belfast pharmacy stops needle exchange service following protests

A community pharmacy in Belfast has decided to halt its provision of a needle and syringe exchange scheme (NSES) following protests against the service outside its premises.

The service has been in place for more than 23 years but in the last three years it became clear that many local residents were not happy that there was an NSES service in the area, with some protesting against it outside the pharmacy, an anonymous source told C+D last week (July 15).

Following “significant pressure” on the pharmacy to withdraw from providing the NSES, McGregor Chemist decided that it was the best interest of its staff and the safety of the pharmacy to stop the service from its branch on Botanic Avenue in Belfast.

The “pharmacy has been an integral part of the NSES for more than 23 years and has provided a highly valuable health service to the local community, which we sincerely thank them for”, the Public Health Agency (PHA) and Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) said in a statement.

McGregor Chemist will continue to offer the NSES until the end of August and PHA and HSCB will work with the pharmacy and service users to phase it out.

“Transfer arrangements to ensure access of service users to alternative NSES services will be carried out in a managed and safe manner,” the health commissioners added.

NSES patients are likely to be redirected to other community pharmacies offering the service or to a community-based service provider, PHA and HSCB said.

“The NSES is vital to the health and wellbeing of the entire community and helps to reduce the potential of drug-related litter and lowers the risk of HIV and hepatitis B and C within the wider population,” they added.

“The service also puts clients in direct contact with a health professional who can help them engage with treatment services to address their drug misuse,” the commissioners added.

The PHA currently funds the NSES in 21 community pharmacies across Northern Ireland.

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