Boots’ 2,300 UK stores are among those taking part in the scheme (Image: PA)

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Domestic abuse victims can now ‘Ask for Ani’ in every Boots store in the UK as part of a new codeword scheme.

Men, women and children will be able to ask for the fictional staff member as a discreet plea for help without tipping off their abuser.

A trained pharmacy worker will then offer a private space to find out if the victim needs to speak to police, support services or helplines, the Home Office said.

The name Ani is in fact the acronym ANI – which stands for Action Needed Immediately.

It will be available initially in all 2,300 Boots stores across the UK, as well as 255 independent pharmacies.

Reports suggest more than a hundred businesses including Superdrug and Morrisons have also joined in.

Pharmacies are vital community hubs in the time of lockdown (stock photo)
(Image: PA)

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Home Secretary Priti Patel told ITV’s This Morning the scheme would be a “really important” tool for getting help to victims.

She said: “If you are a victim of domestic abuse, or subject to coercive behaviour, or being intimidated by a partner or a husband or a wife … you are quite limited more often than not in how you can seek help and speak to people.

“Lockdown has reduced the number of opportunities for people to socialise and interact with other people.”

She was unable to immediately explain how people would know if their local independent pharmacy was part of the scheme.

However, there will be an advertising and social media campaign and businesses are expected to put a poster up inside their shop.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the scheme would be an important tool
(Image: Sky News)

Health professionals, social workers and Job Centres will be asked to promote the scheme, alongside police, councils and support services.

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.”

It is in addition to an existing scheme, launched in May by the charity Hestia, which saw safe spaces installed in Boots's consultation rooms for survivors to contact support services.

Boots UK Chief Pharmacist, Marc Donovan said: "In addition to the designated Safe Spaces in our pharmacies, we hope with the new codeword scheme we can continue to help people access the support they need quickly, safely and discreetly.

“This is something our pharmacy teams feel very passionately about, and we are proud of their continued dedication supporting those in need at a time of such extraordinary challenge.”

One in five offences recorded by police during and immediately after the first national lockdown in England and Wales involved domestic abuse, according to official figures.

Police recorded more than a quarter of a million offences flagged as domestic abuse related over March to June, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.