(Photo: iStock)

The government has joined hands with independent pharmacies and pharmacy chain Boots to launch a new scheme to help domestic abuse victims.

With the launch of ‘Ask for ANI’ scheme on Thursday (Jan 14), victims of domestic abuse will be able to access much needed support from thousands of pharmacies across the UK.

The scheme has been developed by the Home Office to provide a simple and discreet way for victims to signal to pharmacy staff that they need help accessing support from the police or other domestic abuse support services.

By asking for ANI, a trained pharmacy worker will offer a private space where they can understand if the victim needs to speak to the police or would like help to access support services such as a national or local domestic abuse help lines.

As essential retailers based on high streets across the country, and with specifically trained staff, pharmacies can provide a safe space for victims to sound an alarm if they are isolated at home with their abuser and unable to get help in another way.

“The scheme will be initially available through the 2,300 Boots stores across the UK as well as in 255 independent pharmacies. There will be an on-going sign-up process open to all pharmacies,” the government has said.

The codeword scheme will be promoted using discreet social media adverts and paid search. Pharmacies will be given promotional material to display in store to signal to victims that they are participating.

Health professionals, social workers and job centres will also be asked to promote the scheme, alongside police, local authorities and specialist support services for victims.

Commenting on the new scheme, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “As we once again have to ask people across the country to stay at home to tackle this virus, it’s vital that we take action to protect those for who home is not a safe space.

“That is why we have launched this scheme, supported by pharmacies up and down the country, to give some of the most vulnerable people in society a critical lifeline – making sure they have access to the support they need and keep them safe from harm.”

The codeword scheme will complement the charity Hestia’s Safe Spaces initiative by enabling pharmacy staff to offer immediate and emergency assistance. Building on the successful Home Office #YouAreNotAlone campaign, this scheme is expected to raise awareness of the vital support available through domestic abuse charities and other partners including the police.

Chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association, Mark Lyonette, said: “Community pharmacies are about people, not just pills. There is a clear and urgent need to support victims of 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 launch of the scheme comes as Home Secretary Priti Patel announces new laws to reform pre-charge bail which will allow for better protection to victims and witnesses in cases of violent and sexual offences, including domestic abuse.

Patel said: “As Home Secretary, it is my priority to deliver justice for victims and restore confidence in our criminal justice system. The introduction of the national codeword scheme, Ask for ANI, will ensure victims of domestic abuse can always get help when they need it, while our pre-charge bail reforms will ensure that suspects, including those charged with domestic abuse, are more closely monitored and the public is protected.”

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