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Pharmacy withdraws needle exchange service after residents protest

A community pharmacy in south Belfast is to withdraw its needle exchange service after more than 20 years following protests from local residents.

Protests had taken place outside J McGregor Chemist on Belfast’s Botanic Avenue over residents’ claims of anti-social behaviour relating to the Needle and Syringe Exchange Scheme (NSES), which has run from the pharmacy for 23 years.

A joint statement from Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency (PHA) and Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) thanked the pharmacy for providing a “highly valuable health service to the local community”.

NSES services “are based in areas where there is an existing pattern of people who inject, in order to help protect everyone in the community,” the statement added.

The PHA and HSCB will work with the pharmacy to phase out the service over the coming weeks, transferring service users to alternative NSES services in “a managed and safe manner”.

Some will be redirected to other needle exchange community pharmacies while others with “more complex needs” will be directed to services including the Belfast Drug Outreach Team.

“Those who use and require the service will continue to have full access to needle exchange service.”

Belfast deputy lord mayor Paul McCusker said: “Removing services will achieve nothing.

“Services like this ensure that we don’t have increased needles on our streets. For 23 years, this service has been critical and shouldn’t have had to close.”

A total of 33,992 visits were made to exchange needles and syringes across Northern Ireland in the 21 needle and syringe exchange services operating during the period April 1 2018 and March 31 2019.

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