More than 45 people have been supported by a codeword scheme for victims of domestic abuse, which was launched in community pharmacies in January.

The scheme enables people at risk of or suffering from abuse to ask for ANI (action needed immediately) in a participating pharmacy and receive support from a trained pharmacy worker.

Speaking in the House of Lords this week (8 March), Conservative peer Baroness Williams of Trafford said the scheme was ‘now in operation across thousands of pharmacies’ and that it has had ‘more than 45 uses already’, which she added was ‘excellent news’.

Baroness Williams, who was speaking in a debate on the domestic abuse bill and training for frontline professionals, said the Government had worked closely with the pharmacy sector to ‘develop bespoke training and guidance to support it to deliver this additional assistance’.

She added: ‘Those working in vaccination centres are also being provided with bespoke training to ensure that they pick up any signs of domestic abuse and can respond to disclosures should they be made in such safe spaces.’

A spokesperson for the Home Office confirmed to the Pharmacist that the figures were up-to-date and said over 4,000 pharmacies across the UK are now participating in the scheme.

Safe Spaces

The Ask for ANI scheme is one of two pharmacy initiatives launched in recognition of the impact Covid restrictions have had on the ability of victims to reach out for help and support.

The other – Safe Spaces – was launched in May last year by charity Hestia and sees pharmacies use their consultation rooms as a place for victims to access information on domestic abuse support and safely make calls for assistance.

Lyndsey Dearlove, head of domestic abuse prevention at Hestia, told the Pharmacist that the Safe Spaces scheme is now available in over 5,300 pharmacies in the UK – including both multiples and independents - but said there was still ‘more to be done’.

‘As we look towards eased restrictions in our everyday lives, access to specialist domestic abuse support must remain readily accessible,’ she said.

‘In the year ahead, we aim to expand this vital network with new partnerships to ensure anyone who needs support can access a Safe Space in their local community.’

Impact of pandemic

This comes as Conservative MP Victoria Atkins said in response to a written question this week (9 March) that there had been a 10% increase in overall police recorded domestic abuse incidents in the 12-month period to September 2020, compared to the previous year.

Ms Atkins added, however, that the police figures do not provide ‘a reliable measure’ of trends in these types of crimes as they do not always match the increase in demand for help from victim support services and because ‘sadly, victims do not always report domestic abuse to the police’.

‘We continue to further examine available data from police and partner organisations to better understand the impact of the pandemic on domestic abuse incidents and will continue to adapt our response in light of the evidence,’ she said.