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Codeword could help pharmacies identify victims of domestic abuse

Pharmacy teams could be trained to identify victims of domestic abuse using a codeword
Pharmacy teams could be trained to identify victims of domestic abuse using a codeword

Victims of domestic violence could be given a codeword to “get help from shop workers” – including pharmacy teams – during COVID-19, the Home Office announced week (May 21).

Under the scheme, victims of domestic abuse who are in “urgent or immediate danger” will be able to get help from staff in pharmacies and shops, the Home Office said. It added that customers in this situation would be given “a specific phrase that staff will be trained to identify”.

The plans were discussed during a virtual summit hosted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week (May 21), focusing on the “unique challenges” victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence, child sexual abuse and modern slavery face as a result of the pandemic and lockdown.

The Hidden Harms summit was attended by representatives of law enforcement, victims’ charities, frontline practitioners and the private sector and by organisations including the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) and the British Retail Consortium.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Just as I am committed to tackling the virus, we have to support the most vulnerable and keep them safe from harm and exploitation.

“That is why it is vital that we come together and bring all our collective expertise to ensure we are doing everything we can to support those at risk, and to help them rebuild their lives.” 

The Home Office could not confirm to C+D how the codeword will work in practice. A Home Office spokesperson told C+D last week (May 22) that there is not “any further detail we are putting in the public domain yet on how the codeword will work”.

 “Eager to play our part”

The NPA is among the organisations currently “in talks with Home Office officials” and NPA chief executive Mark Lyonette said last week (May 21) that “discussions are ongoing and we cannot give more details at this time”. 

Mr Lyonette told C+D that “local pharmacies are about people, not just pills, so we are eager to play our part in supporting victims of abuse. 

“The NPA is in talks with the Home Office about how an alert mechanism could work in community pharmacy settings.”

Pharmacy bodies including the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the General Pharmaceutical Council have previously encouraged pharmacies to back the broad agenda of supporting victims of domestic abuse by joining the UK Says No More campaign.

As part of this campaign, which multiples Boots, Superdrug and Morrisons have signed up to, pharmacies can turn consultation rooms into “safe spaces” for victims of domestic abuse.

However, the NPA highlighted the issues of resources within the pharmacy sector when it comes to the codeword initiative. “There is a clear and urgent need to support victims of abuse and we want to play our part”, Mr Lyonette said.

But as “key health service providers during the COVID-19 crisis”, community pharmacy resources are “already stretched” and “this is something we have already made clear to officials”, he added.

Since the implementation of lockdown measures in the UK, charity Hestia has seen a 47% increase in victims using its Bright Sky domestic abuse support app

What do you make of the plans?

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

I'm afraid the concept of turning a pharmacy into a temporary safe house for victims is nothing short of fantasy. The country is in a financial trough from the last several weeks. Shoe-horning a sector with a lack of resources will add nothing more than stress, buckling under the strain of endless edicts and demands.

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

There is an apparel brand FCUK. Can this be used as a code for sexual abuse?? Just a thought.

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

I have said before I have every sympathy with victims of domestic violence but this cannot be an unfunded service. I don't want to get attacked by the psychotic partner of someone sheltering in our pharmacy, in full knowledge I'm doing it as a 'freebie'

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

I feel you would need rather a lot of psychiatric training in order to do this role, something I don't have the time or the inclination to do. I would not feel in any way confident handling this situation and I don't want to be facing some nutjob of a partner who's been on the sherbets whether it's funded or not. £25 quid or whatever is not really going to soften the blow if I'm put into hospital by this.

If this scheme does go ahead I think it would be wrong to apply it to all retail outlets but surely funding could be put into place to train up a few people in each area and publicise this so the victims of domestic abuse would know where to go. If someone in distress was to turn up at a pharmacy and no-one knew what the hell to do, that's just going to make the situation worse.

mark straughton, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Great idea!................any funding for this? or is this to be absorbed as part of our essential services?

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