Protesting grandmothers plan river swim

TWO grandmothers are determined to carry out a protest swim across an Essex river - despite warnings it is unsafe.

Elliot Furniss

TWO grandmothers are determined to carry out a protest swim across an Essex river - despite warnings it is unsafe.

Jo Brennan, 68, and Elizabeth Trellis, 74, are furious at plans to close their pharmacy in Rowhedge, near Colchester.

The dispensary service at the village GP surgery is due to be closed because of the opening of a new pharmacy in Wivenhoe.

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Rules prohibit practices within 1.6km of a pharmacy from dispensing drugs, but while the surgery is only a few hundred yards from the site of the new pharmacy, they are separated by the River Colne - and the nearest crossing is a three-mile drive away.

Mrs Brennan and Mrs Trellis came up with the idea of swimming across the river to protest against North East Essex Primary Care Trust's plans. The stunt will take place on Thursday.

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Speaking as they carried out a test swim yesterday, Mrs Brennan, who has lived in Rowhedge for three years, said they were determined to make a stand - despite a warning from the Environment Agency.

“We really want to fight for something that is working really well. We want to encourage people to come along and cheer us on,” she said.

“Unfortunately, bureaucracy does not take into account that there is a river dividing the two villages and that the nearest bridge is three miles away on the outskirts of Colchester.”

But a spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said the swim was not safe for a number of reasons and advised against them carrying out their plan.

She said: “The stretch of water will have fully treated sewage effluent which is fairly clean but it has residual bacteria in it.”

She also warned of hidden dangers underneath the water, strong currents, extreme cold and the risk of Weil's disease.

A message from the practice's doctors on its website urges concerned residents to write to their MP or sign a petition at the surgery.

It says: “The proposed site would therefore mean that the dispensary at Rowhedge Surgery would no longer be able to dispense any medicines to all patients living in Rowhedge and most patients living in Fingringhoe.

“We need your support if we are to continue dispensing as at present.”

A spokesman for the PCT said its pharmaceutical services group would consider an application for a new pharmacy in Wivenhoe at its July or August meeting, in accordance with the Pharmaceutical Regulations 2005.

The full swim will take place on Thursday evening at 6pm and anyone wishing to take part or sign the petition to protect the future of the dispensary can find out more at the surgery in Rectory Road.

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