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Avon & Somerset Police Federation

275 officers signed off for mental ill health in Avon and Somerset

31 October 2023

A record 13,294 UK police officers have been signed off work over the past year due to stress, depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – 80% up on a decade ago.

A Freedom of Information request to all forces covered the financial year 2022/23. This year’s figure is slightly up on last year (13,263), and much higher than pre-pandemic levels. In 2012-13, when Police Oracle first carried out the survey, just 6,294 officers were signed off work for poor mental health.

Tony Henley, Secretary of Avon and Somerset Police Federation, said: “It is a travesty that so many of our officers are struggling with anxiety, depression and PTSD linked to the work they do to protect our communities. Current statistics show that over 13,500 officers nationally were signed off last year.

“Avon and Somerset had a record high had 275 officers signed off. It is all too easy to see numbers however… these are individual people with families that are also impacted by the distress their loved ones are struggling with. That is 275 of your colleagues unable to work and do the job they signed up for.
 
“A chink of light in this bleak picture is the Home Secretary’s announcement that a 24/7 mental health line will be made available for officers. I also encourage and support the Force in the work that they are doing to support the occupational health department to provide services that are necessary and excellent for our colleagues.

“I often hear from our colleagues who we speak to ‘It’s all too much, I can’t cope’. Whilst we cannot control the trauma faced by our colleagues in the incidents they attend or in the witnessing of the effect of crime on the public we serve. We should at least provide the important support to help remark ‘it’s now not too much, I can cope’”

All but three forces responded to the survey, and two thirds (28 out of 43) reported higher levels of mental-health-related absence than a year ago. The UK’s biggest force, the Metropolitan Police Service, reported the highest number of absences, a huge 1,846. The second highest figure was from Police Scotland, at 1,087.

Forces with a high percentage rise in absences include Devon & Cornwall (up 155%), Bedfordshire (up 58%) and West Mercia (up 55%).  

The Police Federation of England and Wales’s Wellbeing Lead, Sue Honeywill, said: “With officer numbers proportionally at an all-time low, officer morale at its lowest and the workload at its greatest, it can be no surprise that we are witnessing extremely high levels of officers signed off for mental ill-health related reasons.

“Officers’ pensions have been eroded, assaults on officers are increasing and the cost-of-living crisis has squeezed pay to such a level that we know some are forced to resort to food banks to stay afloat. On top of this, media reporting paints a picture of incompetence and immorality within the service that is not a true representation of the overwhelming majority of decent and hard-working officers.”

Sue added that she “feared these figures will remain high” as the Home Office is demanding that officers investigate all crimes more thoroughly, but is not providing extra resources. She stressed that police chiefs must do more to protect the rights and working conditions of their officers.

A Home Office spokesperson responded: “The Government is committed to ensuring police officers are provided with appropriate mental health support .

"We have made significant progress by ensuring that improved mental health training and support is provided, and we continue to fund the National Police Wellbeing Service (NPWS), with £3m for 2023/24.”

The NPWS has developed a number of initiatives to support officer wellbeing, a National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) spokesperson said, but they acknowledged that there was more work to be done.

They said: “By providing services like occupational health provision, along with additional training and health checks, we are better equipped to support the wellbeing of our officers and staff. The work of Oscar Kilo makes a real difference, and has meant that more police officers and staff feel OK to say that they’re not OK.
 
“We recognise, however, that managing wellbeing is a never-ending process and that there is always more to do. We are committed to continuing to work with colleagues in the health service, charities, and staff associations, to ensure that we are always being guided by the best practice and research, and ultimately, ensuring that we are doing everything we can to support our people.”