People in the UK at risk of domestic abuse during lockdown can now seek immediate help from their local pharmacy by using a codeword, under a new scheme launched by ministers earlier this week (14 January).

By asking for ‘ANI’ (action needed immediately) at specific pharmacies across the UK, people at risk of or suffering from abuse will be able to receive help from a trained pharmacy worker.

Victims will be offered the chance to speak to police or support services from the safety of a private area.

The programme is currently available in 255 independent pharmacies and 2,300 Boots stores across the UK, the Home Office said, but there will be an on-going sign-up process open to all pharmacies.

The scheme has been introduced in response to the impact of Covid restrictions on the ability of victims to reach out for help and support.

Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said: ‘Community pharmacies are about people, not just pills. There is a clear and urgent need to support victims of domestic abuse and we want to play our part.

‘The Ask for ANI alert mechanism is a discreet and sensitive way to help support some of the most vulnerable people in our society.’

The new scheme will work alongside ‘safe spaces’ – a similar initiative that was set up in pharmacies across the UK back in May, to enable victims of domestic abuse to seek help during the first Covid-19 lockdown.

Marc Donovan, Boots UK chief pharmacist, said:‘Since the start of the pandemic, our 2,300 stores in communities across the UK have taken on increased importance as a place of safety for those who need one.’

He added: ‘This is something our pharmacy teams feel very passionately about, and we are proud of their continued dedication supporting those in need at a time of such extraordinary challenge.’

The new codeword scheme will be promoted across the UK through discreet social media adverts and paid search. Pharmacies will also be given posters to display in-store.