More than 800 pharmacies to be safe spaces for domestic abuse victims

A purple coloured sticker on the door or window will identify it as a ‘Safe Pharmacy’

More than 800 pharmacies in cities, towns and villages across Ireland are to double-up as “safe” spaces for victims of domestic abuse.

Under a newly announced system, victims, who are often monitored or controlled by their abusers, can discreetly ask a pharmacist for a consultation in a private room where they can be connected to nearby specialist services. If they want to get in touch with a family member or friend in private to reach support, they will be granted free access to a phone.

A purple coloured sticker on the door or window will identify it as a “Safe Pharmacy”.

Oonagh O’Hagan, from Plumbridge, Co Tyrone, who runs nine pharmacies in Dublin under the Meaghers brand, said “ambassadors” in each of the participating pharmacies have been trained to offer victims “compassionate” support.

“All they have to do is come in and ask for a private consultation with a pharmacist, as happens every single day with customers looking for help with a rash or prescription medication or something else,” she said. “It is not something out of the ordinary in a pharmacy setting and it is a very discreet, safe, private environment where they can explain to us what is going on.”

About 85 per cent of the population in Ireland live within 5km of a pharmacy with almost half of these businesses having signed up to the scheme.

“Domestic abuse is happening right under our noses in every single community in Ireland,” Ms O’Hagen said. “All we are asking people to do is take that first step. There is no shame or guilt. You will be listened to, you will be believed, you will be supported.”

Women’s Aid, Ireland’s leading non-statutory organisation for domestic abuse victims, recorded a 10 per cent increase in contacts last year, with the total up from 29,717 the previous year to 33,831.

Victims can rely on the “trust and confidentiality” of local pharmacists as that “first port of call” in seeking help, said Ms O’Hagan.

“We know from speaking to people that many are tightly controlled, where their access to a phone is being monitored, their every movement is being monitored or controlled,” she added.

“A pharmacy is a very safe place to come to, where you could just be visiting for a prescription medication or an over the counter treatment. It won’t alert anyone as being unusual.”

The Safe Pharmacy scheme is being led by the Irish Pharmacy Union and is supported by domestic abuse service Safe Ireland, the Health Service Executive and the Garda.

Brian Hutton

Brian Hutton is a freelance journalist and Irish Times contributor