FERMANAGH Women’s Aid, in conjunction with the PSNI and with funding support from Enniskillen BID, has been providing training in understanding domestic violence and abuse for local pharmacists.

The move to help roll out the initiative across Enniskillen follows the launch of the ‘Ask for ANI’ scheme by the UK government last month.

This offers victims of domestic abuse the opportunity to discreetly seek help through pharmacies, by asking staff for “ANI” (sounds like ‘Annie’), with the discreet codeword signalling their need for help.

Staff from Enniskillen pharmacies including Erne Pharmacy, Mullan Pharmacy, Lakeland Pharmacy, Gordon’s Chemist, Hughes Pharmacy and Corry’s Chemist took part in the virtually-held training on Tuesday, February 16.

Loretto McManus, from Lakeland Pharmacy, and Niall Corry, from Corry’s Chemist, took part in the training which they both found “extremely beneficial”.

Speaking to The Impartial Reporter, Loretto explained what she has learnt from the training, and how it will help with domestic abuse disclosures through the Ask for ANI scheme.

She said: “We would have always envisaged domestic abuse as somebody who becomes physically injured, but there’s a lot more than physical abuse, there is mental abuse [coercive control] too, so I think we needed to know more, to have an understanding so that if somebody did present to a pharmacy, that we would understand.

“I think pharmacies can provide a safe space for victims to sound an alarm if they are feeling isolated at home with their abuser and aren’t able to get help in any other way. Even if it’s something as simple as to be able to use a phone [we want to help if we can].

“The fact that we now have that knowledge [is important], and we have the signposting details of how to be able to refer these people on either through Fermanagh Women’s Aid or the PSNI if necessary.

“There are various channels [of help available], and obviously that is very much a conversation that you have with the person coming forward.

“It’s really them that are calling the shots; you have to listen and be able to channel their anxiety or their need in whatever appropriate direction,” she said.

Niall commented that he would go as far as to say that the training was “eye-opening”.

He said: “I think when you hear of domestic abuse, the physical side always comes to mind, but having listened to [the] training I am much more aware of the non-physical side.

“The idea of the coercive control of the perpetrator wasn’t something I had considered before as domestic abuse, and has made me more aware of that as being a major part of it.

“While I was on the training session, I was actually thinking of a patient who had spoken to me quite recently about how they were feeling about their partner of many years, and things he would say to her, and I now realise that it was probably a form of domestic abuse.

“I hadn’t considered it to be that label at the time. Incidentally, they weren’t asking for ANI, and indeed they have actually moved out of the house and are getting help.”

Michelle Alonso, Training Co-ordinator at Fermanagh Women’s Aid, who led the recent training for pharmacists, said: “We know from women whom we have worked with that the first response they receive when they reach out is critical for their next step.

“There really is a right way and a wrong way to speak to someone who has been experiencing domestic and sexual abuse.

“Now, with the ‘Ask for ANI’ scheme, pharmacy staff could be, for many people, that first point of contact; that first person they have ever spoken to [about their abuse].

“We know victims and survivors who feel believed are more likely to seek help and support.

“We hope that this training will enhance the response staff will give to victims/survivors at a crucial time.

“The training was designed to provide an insight into the reality of domestic and sexual violence/abuse.

“Stereotyping victims/survivors and the prevalence of myths hinders support, and this training worked towards these, dispelling myths around domestic violence and abuse.

“Once pharmacy staff really understand the reality of this abuse, it will make it somewhat easier for them to then successfully take part in this Ask for ANI scheme,” said Michelle.

PSNI Inspector Joni Beatty is the vulnerability lead for the Fermanagh Omagh district. She worked closely with Fermanagh Women’s Aid, supported by Enniskillen BID, to develop the training programme.

Following the training, Inspector Beatty commented that initial feedback has been very positive.

He added: “We are encouraged to continuing rolling out the programme across the entire district. We will be running a session for Omagh pharmacies on the evening of March 9.”