Domestic abuse victims will be able to access safe spaces at Boots pharmacies across the country from Friday under measures to improve access to support during the coronavirus lockdown.
Multiple support services for domestic abuse have reported a surge in calls to helplines since the lockdown was imposed, while the Metropolitan police said it was making an average of about 100 arrests a day for offences linked to abuse in the home.
Many victims who are now unable to seek help while at home trapped with their abusers will still be expected to shop for food and medicine, and there have been calls for safe space initiatives to be introduced in supermarkets and more pharmacies.
The domestic abuse charity Hestia is overseeing a safe space model in consultation rooms at most of the 2,400 Boots pharmacies across the country to provide access to support for anyone experiencing domestic abuse.
People who wish to use the safe space consultation room need to ask at the pharmacy counter. Once inside, they will find the 24-hour national domestic abuse helpline, the men’s advice line and phone numbers for services specific to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
There will be signposting to download Hestia’s mobile app Bright Sky, which provides support and information to anyone who may be in an abusive relationship.
Lyndsey Dearlove, the head of Hestia’s UK SAYS NO MORE campaign, said: “While lockdown and social distancing measures continue, it is restricting victims of domestic abuse reaching out to their friends, family and co-workers for support.
“We know there is an increased level of uncertainty for people looking to escape an abusive relationship. Self-isolation offers a new method of control over victims making it very difficult for them to seek support.
“We recognise that key workers in pharmacies hold a unique position within the community as a single point of contact for victims. By creating this safe space in Boots pharmacies, we hope many will be able to safely access support while following government guidelines.
“We hope more pharmacies will follow Boots UK’s lead and join the Safe Space initiative. Although we are in a period of lockdown and isolation, our message to victims is domestic abuse services are open and we can help you.”
Hestia said it had already seen a 47% increase in victims reaching out for information and support on its Bright Sky app during the lockdown period.
The president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Sandra Gidley, said: “During the pandemic, when options for survivors and victims are even more limited than usual, pharmacies can provide the safe environment needed to get support. The trust that the public have in pharmacies make them an ideal place to access help and take a step away from harm towards a better future.”
Duncan Rudkin, the chief executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council, which regulates pharmacies in Britain, said: “We are encouraging all pharmacies to consider becoming a Safe Space, to help people experiencing domestic abuse access vital support they may need.
“Pharmacies are in the frontline in supporting the healthcare needs of patients and the public during the Covid-19 pandemic in the community, and are one of the few places that are open to people who may need help.”
• The 24-hour national domestic abuse helpline can be reached on 0808 2000 247