Charity in talks with government to develop code word for pharmacies to act as refuges

A charity is in discussions with the Home Office to develop a code word to be used in pharmacies by customers who need help, after the success of its scheme to support vulnerable people during COVID-19.

Boots pharmacy shop front

The charity behind a scheme that saw community pharmacies used as “safe spaces” for people experiencing domestic abuse is in talks with the government about creating a code word that will alert pharmacy staff to a customer that needs help.

Hestia’s UK SAYS NO MORE campaign, in which community pharmacies were used as refuges for vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic, launched on 1 May 2020. Boots, Superdrug and Morrisons pharmacies — alongside independent pharmacies — offered their consultation rooms as private spaces, where people experiencing domestic abuse could safely phone case workers or access other services providing support. 

Boots has confirmed that its pharmacies were used as refuges more than 100 times in the first week of the campaign.

Lyndsey Dearlove, a spokesperson for Hestia, said the issue went beyond the current pandemic.

“Access to private space has dissipated over the last 10 to 15 years: for example, there are no longer so many phone boxes,” Dearlove said.

“All these [mobile] tools are great for linking us with other people, but they increase the opportunity to be monitored. There is a fear that people can’t use their phone to ask for help.”

She added that pharmacy consultation rooms “have provided one extra space” where people may seek help.

The charity is now in the process of surveying participating pharmacies for feedback on how the service is being used.

Dearlove said Hestia “sees [the initiative] continuing” after the pandemic.

“We are looking at how we can increase the ability to access safe spaces,” she said, adding that the charity was in discussions with the Home Office around developing a code word for use in pharmacies that would trigger a support response.

Ultimately, Dearlove said, “the success of this scheme has been based on pharmacists themselves: their desire to respond during COVID-19 has made it work.

“We provided a framework and domestic abuse awareness training. But it was the passion and desire of pharmacists that mobilised it — and they deserve the credit”.

A list of participating pharmacies is available at

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Charity in talks with government to develop code word for pharmacies to act as refuges;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20208100

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