Police psychological sick leave up 35% in five years

An investigation conducted by BBC Radio 5 Live has revealed worrying statistics concerning the UK police force.

New figures released under the Freedom of Information Act have shown that the number of UK police officers and staff taking long-term sick leave for psychological reasons have risen by 35% over the last five years. The figures show that cases rose from 4,554 in 2010 to 6,129 in 2014-2015, add this to the fact that police workforces have actually reduced in numbers over the recent years and these numbers become increasingly alarming.

Most of the public will accept and acknowledge that working for the police is bound to involve a certain amount of stress, however when the levels of stress get to a point in which it is causing long term absences among staff then it is clear that something needs to be done. The government have recently echoed this in saying that policing is ‘’stressful’ and forces must help their staff.

The BBC’s 5 live Daily programme contacted 46 police forces across the UK during their investigation, with 40 willing to provide information.

The subsequent data gathered showed that there was also a steady increase in overall long-term sick leave, forces in the UK define long-term sick leave as 28 to 29 days leave or more.

Based on this definition the number of employees on long term sick leave rose from 19,825 in 2010-11 to 22,547 in 2014-15, with West Yorkshire Police recording the largest rise in the UK from 2013-14 to 2014-15. Numbers rose from 521 to 748 over the course of a year, an increase of 44%.

There was some encouraging news to come out of the findings however, with Warwickshire Police showing a 17% decrease in long term sick leave over the same time period.

The total number of police officers in England and Wales fell by almost 17,000 from 2010 to 2015, while the number of other staff fell by more than 20,000. It is hard to argue that these figures must have some relation to the issues mentioned above.

Furthermore, the decrease in police officers over recent years looks to be causing a vicious circle that is affecting forces across the UK. Cuts to police officer numbers with increased demand on the forces has inevitably caused large amounts of stress at work and increased sickness. This is not surprising given the horrific situations and highly stressful environments police officers are exposed to. This added to the reduction in resources and manpower can lead to the ‘perfect storm’ as quoted by Che Donald of the Police Federation when asked for his thoughts on the issue.

Policing Minister Mike Penning also spoke about the issue, stating that “Policing, by its very nature, is a stressful and demanding job and it is the responsibility of chief officers – with help from the College of Policing – to ensure that police officers and staff are supported in their work.”

He also said the government have allocated £10m in 2014 to help emergency services staff through “mental health, physical recuperation and bereavement support”.

Police Scotland did not provide the information requested by the BBC so the figures do not include Scotland – but last year data suggested more than 53,000 working days had been lost in the force over two years due to stress. This is a telling statistic that highlights just how big the problems surrounding psychological health in the police force are, looking to combat and reduce this issue will not only help the Police force itself, but the millions of people in the UK who rely on them for help.

Richard Coulthard, a Director at Michael Lewin Solicitors said ‘We receive a significant number of enquiries from members of the police to take legal action against the police for causing psychological injury and I would suggest that the number of enquiries has increased. We have successfully brought stress at Work claims against a number of police forces across the country which appears to suggest an acknowledgment by these forces that they are failing in their duty of care to the officers and staff concerned.’

If you believe that you have suffered with Stress at Work and want to make an enquiry about pursuing a claim for Stress at Work please contact Michael Lewin Solicitors on 0113 200 9720 or by email at enquiries@michaellewin.co.uk

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