A NEEDLE exchange does not operate at the controversial pharmacy in May Close, as Dr Simon Dowdeswell broke the silence long-held by Eightlands and Hawthorn Medical Centre yesterday .

Ever since the pharmacy opened on the ground floor of the medical centre without Swindon Council’s permission last October, it has been the subject of much debate, though its operators have never passed comment on the matter.

But during yesterday’s hearing of their appeal, Eightlands and Hawthorn addressed the ‘scaremongering’ of residents who have blamed it for needles found nearby.

“The pharmacy doesn’t operate a needle exchange service,” said Dr Dowdeswell, a practitioner at the medical centre.

“Any needles found are nothing to do with the pharmacy, it’s just scaremongering by some of the interested parties at this hearing.”

Coun John Ballman (Lab, Gorse Hill & Pinehurst) raised an issue with the initial planning application, and the pharmacy’s requirement to operate an exchange in order to meet NHS expectations.

But in reply, Tasawer Hussein, director of Eightlands and Swindon Dispensary, the name of the joint venture between Eightland and Hawthorn, said it was only required to operate a needle exchange if the NHS specifically requested it to, which it hadn’t.

The hearing is being led by the Planning Inspectorate and Dr Jane Styles, the appointed inspector.

A decision is not likely to be reached on the appeal until the end of the month at the earliest.

Residents have argued the opening of the 100-hour pharmacy, which opens beyond the hours of the medical centre it is attached to, will lead to congestion and disturbances in the area at unsocial hours.

In defence, Mr Hussein said: “The pharmacy is generally used in GP surgery hours. Ninety-nine per cent of prescriptions collected have been in GP surgery hours.”

Swindon Council, which refused Eightlands’s initial planning application to use part of the surgery as a dispensing pharmacy, has argued the pharmacy is a retail outlet in its own right and not ancillary to the health centre.

Eightlands, through its solicitor Jay Smith, revealed the pharmacy’s turnover in its first three months in order to prove the medical centre was leading the pharmacy rather than the other way around.

Mr Smith said the pharmacy was predicted to turn over between £500,000 and £550,000 per annum, was described as extremely small in comparison to Hawthorn’s £16.5m annual budget.

“The medical centre generates activity for the pharmacy, not the other way around,” said Mr Hussein. “Ninety-nine per cent of prescriptions dispensed are from doctors at the medical centre.

“There were 93 non-patients using the pharmacy in its first three months, about one per day.”

Dr Styles made a site visit and will issue a decision in due course.