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Police service sick leave up almost 70 per cent

Just under 11,000 officers took time off work in the last year

More than 10,500 police officers across the UK took time off work for stress, depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder in the past year, Police Oracle can reveal.

The figure - 10,684 - is a staggering increase of 69.76 per cent since 2012/13. And works out at around one in 13 officers.

A total of 6,294 officers were signed off on sick leave for psychological illnesses in 2012, when the figures were first collated by this website, but that figure stands at 10,684 for the financial year 2018/19.

Meanwhile 915 more officers were signed off sick this year compared with last year - a 9.37 per cent increase - according to a Freedom of Information Act request of all forces (see table below).

West Midlands Police saw the biggest rise in terms of the number of officers signed off, rising from 601 to 1,251 – an increase of 108 per cent.

In North Wales Police, numbers more than doubled, rising by 131 per cent - an additional 146 officers compared to last year. Norfolk’s numbers rose by 78 per cent, Suffolk’s by 61 per cent and West Yorkshire Police saw an increase of 34 per cent.

British Transport Police bucked the trend however; the force saw the biggest fall in numbers with a 35 per cent decrease. Fifteen other forces also saw a reduction.

The Home Office and chief officers have claimed to have renewed their efforts to tackle the problem by making improvements to support and occupational health.

But Richard Cooke, Chairman of West Midlands Police Federation, said officers are “broken and emotionally exhausted,” blaming too much demand and insufficient officer numbers.

He said: “People have got far too heavy workloads, which contain a lot of risk, and that’s weighing very heavily on their minds. The problem is that the relentlessness of the demand, leaves absolutely no time because officers are going from one job to the next job, to the next, with no time to in between, to download, to discuss, to reflect”.

Although he has not experienced mental health illness himself, Rich was not surprised so many officers had taken sick leave at his force. He stated that he had suffered from low mood during his service and said: “There’s been times in the last five to 10 years that I was adamant that as soon as I got an opportunity I was going to leave the service. I was fed up of it.”

Chris Thurley, Assistant Director of Business Partnering at West Midlands Police, said: “Our officers and PCSOs hold inherently challenging roles many of which carry considerable risk and over the last 12 months over a third of our workforce has had no absence. Various supportive measures are in place including counselling support for those dealing with traumatic incidents, a physiotherapy service, general health checks and a 24/7 wellbeing service.

“We are aware that sickness rates have increased slightly over the past few years and realise that colleagues experience genuine illness or sustain injuries on duty which prevent them from attending work. These colleagues will continue to be fully supported by the organisation.”

Earlier this year it was revealed that close to one in five police officers and staff in the UK have symptoms consistent with either post-traumatic stress disorder or what’s known as “complex PTSD” – yet over two-thirds of those suffering are unaware.

This was the result of research carried out by the charity Police Care UK and the University of Cambridge, which found that devastating cuts to the service have left officers unable to take the time to recover from stress and trauma encountered at work.

Ché Donald, Vice-Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said it was shocking that so many officers could be suffering with no idea that they are experiencing a medical illness or seeking treatment for it.

He said: “Complex PTSD is more prevalent in an environment where you are subjected to repeated exposure to traumatic events. By the nature of policing, the day job is going out and dealing with trauma and when you factor in that officers are often single-crewed, 76% are almost always single crewed, where is the ability to off-load and to decompress after dealing with those incidents? Where is the ability to recover?

“Officers are experiencing an increase in cancelled rest days, it is harder for them to take leave, we are seeing increases in presenteeism, the fatigue index is going to be higher and when you take all of this together you are going to have an increased susceptibility to complex PTSD.

“If you are run down as an individual, you can’t sleep, you are under pressure, and stressed, you are more likely to contract viral infection. It is the same with policing and complex PTSD or other  illness such anxiety, depression or stress.”

The only way this will change is by increasing the number of boots on the front line, Mr Donald added. “We don’t have a ready supply of cops in the cupboard that we can bring out to off-set the demand that we are facing. It has taken eight years of sustained cuts to get where we are now and it will take twice as long to alleviate the existing pressures.”

The Home Office said more is being done to help officers through the Oskar Kilo National Police Wellbeing Service.

A spokesman added: “Our police officers do an incredibly difficult job and we take their physical and mental health very seriously. That is why we have given £7.5 million to the recently-launched National Police Wellbeing Service which will improve the support provided to police officers and staff. It is vital that chief officers give their staff the support they need and the Government welcomes the work being led by forces to promote officers’ health and wellbeing.”

Oskar Kilo is seeing some success, according to Andy Rhodes, National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Organisational Development and Wellbeing and Chief Constable of Lancashire Police.

And in Lancashire, he emphasises his officers are getting far better support than before. He said there has been a sixfold increase in the number of officers being referred to occupational health for help with psychological illness in the past year, and the force has seen a significant reduction in waiting times.

Mr Rhodes said officers have access to an excellent clinical psychologist as well as unprecedented levels of peer support.

He said: “People will trust their peer as much as an expert now. We don’t want our staff to go to their GP for 3.5 minute appointment and come out with the wrong diagnosis. We want them to come and speak to us; we’ve got proper expertise in EMDR [psychotherapy treatment] and trauma; my people are turning out at 4am. We had a terrible fatal on the motorway and my head of occupational health turned out to do initial debrief with staff. People can’t afford to wait six months to get help.”

Nationally however, occupational health provision can be patchy, with officers having to wait for help. But these can benefit from outreach vehicles to get tested and directed to the necessary support, Mr Rhodes added.

“We are the only sector in the world to have a national wellbeing program…As part of that, by the end of the year we will have ten outreach vehicles that can provide psychological screening. They go to the workplace and conduct health checks, with professionals giving out advice about debt management for example. That way we are reaching hundreds and hundreds of people. The Met will have two of their own eventually. Hampshire, Wiltshire, Lancashire and Northumbria have just had them. They are a massive success.

“It is bringing the help to the officers that need it. We have a dynamic workforce, who are spread out, doing shifts, and can’t get into headquarters for a check. So the vans enable us to look at blood pressure, blood sugar and provide a mental health questionnaire in a private room. One officer recently popped in for a check on his way to a job, he did a quick questionnaire and was found to have critical levels of anxiety and depression. So the occupational health team invited him in to have some sessions, and made a referral.”

But Mr Rhodes warned that the figures may get worse before they get better as more officers are willing to come forward and be honest as to why they are unwell.

“Forces are really starting to get their act together,” he added. “Some are slower than others, but we have got ministerial support and funding. People are starting to recognise these figures and that if we don’t start to do something seriously it’s going to be biggest risk to operational resilience that we face.”

Force  2018/19
Avon and Somerset  193
Bedfordshire  130
British Transport Police  184
Cambridgeshire 121
Cheshire 174
City of London X
Cleveland  155
Cumbria X
Derbyshire  114
Devon and Cornwall 205
Dorset 129
Durham  87
Dyfed Powys  X
Essex 253
Gloucestershire 78
Greater Manchester Police 597
Gwent 148
Hampshire 225
Hertfordshire  177
Humberside  153
Kent 237
Lancashire  244
Leicestershire  180
Lincolnshire X
Merseyside  252
Metropolitan Police  783.44
Norfolk 162
North Wales 257
North Yorkshire 113
Northamptonshire 147
Northumbria 224
Nottinghamshire 205
PSNI 449
Scotland  715
South Wales  220
Staffordshire  143
Suffolk 153
Surrey 118
Sussex 223
Thames Valley  400
Warwickshire  84
West Mercia  158
West Midlands 1251
West Yorkshire  479
Wiltshire  63
Total  10684.44


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