People in danger of domestic abuse during the coronavirus lockdown will be able to ask for help discreetly by giving a code word to pharmacists, under a UK wide scheme launched by ministers.
If someone asks for “Ani” at one of the participating pharmacies, they will be allowed to go to a private space to talk, to see if they require help from police or other services such as domestic abuse helplines. The name is an acronym for “action needed immediately”.
Abuse charities have expressed significant concern about the impact of domestic abuse during the lockdown when women, children and others are denied regular contact with others.
Pharmacies have been appointed as the outlet for the plan because they have personnel qualified to assist people and are also classified as essential retail, meaning they remain open.
The scheme will be available immediately, initially in 2,300 Boots stores and 255 independent pharmacies, and other pharmacies are being invited to sign up to the programme.
Throughout the earlier lockdown in England in November, the charity Refuge, which runs the National Domestic Abuse helpline, said it was extremely concerned by the continuing upward trend in demand for its services.
After the first lockdown, the Counting Dead Women project informed MPs that between 23 March and 12 April at least 16 domestic abuse killings had taken place, far higher than the average for the time of year.
The pharmacy-based initiative was first suggested during a hidden harms web summit hosted by Boris Johnson in June, which explored some of the repercussions of lockdown.
In a Commons statement, Victoria Atkins, the safeguarding minister, said the scheme would offer a necessary lifeline to all victims, ensuring they get help safely and discreetly.
But Jess Phillips, a shadow home office minister who speaks on domestic violence and safeguarding, called for more backing for support services.
She said that domestic abuse and community support services are currently preparing for redundancies in March, which was truly staggering in the middle of a global pandemic and a national lockdown.
She continued that the sector, the Labour party, the domestic abuse and the victim’s commissioner have all called repeatedly for sustainable funding for at least the next year and that the workers being made redundant are the very people the minister needs for ‘Ask for Ani’ to have any prospect of success.
But why just pharmacists? Why not the police as well? They should be helping with domestic abuse as well.
It’s not just women that are victims of abuse or violence, and this information must be available to everyone who needs it.
However, those women of abusive partners or children of abusive parents, those partners or abusers now won’t let their victims out of their sight because they know that when they go to the pharmacy to get a bottle of cough medicine or a packet of paracetomol, they might be going there for a cry for help.
And I’m not here to stick it to anyone but if the victim can see this, so can the abuser, so it wasn’t as discreet as it was designed to be, and it appears that someone didn’t think this through very well.
Any woman or child should be able to go somewhere where they can say in private that they need help without the aid of code word.
How about working on ways to further upskill professionals to recognise the signs of Domestic Violence. How about better support for women, men and children who are being abused?
Because it seems at the moment the only thing they’ve been able to publicly distribute is the code word, not the actual support needed.