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11 October 2023
More needs to be done about the wellbeing crisis in policing so that officers don’t break, the 2023 PFEW Conference has been told.
The session ‘Workforce under pressure – a true picture of police wellbeing’ hosted speakers from PFEW, Oscar Kilo and the College of Policing.
“21st-century policing is a complex profession,” said PFEW joint wellbeing lead Sue Honeywill, as she listed the factors that impacted officers’ welfare, including being assaulted, having their pensions eroded, being subject to unfairly negative media coverage, and suffering through a cost-of-living crisis.
What’s more, the police were increasingly stepping up to fill the gaps left by the contraction of other public-sector organisations, Sue said, pointing to the fact that 40% of incidents attended by the police were mental-health related.
She said: “There are many factors that impact on police wellbeing: an inexperienced frontline, the burden of extremely heavy workloads, attending distressing incidents on a regular basis, student officers having to learn a complex profession alongside academic programmes…investigations being played out via social media…the constant need for the changing of shifts, the cancelling of rest days.
“Is it any wonder we’ve seen a slight increase in long-term sickness absence and an increase in officers being placed on adjusted duties? We must challenge Chiefs to do more to protect the rights and working conditions of our officers.”
Sue’s wellbeing co-lead, Paul Williams, said that the impact of poor mental health in policing could have devastating consequences for officers. He said: “Between 2001 and 2020, 344 of our colleagues took their own lives...this number is rising, this issue is serious and real."
He added: “Wellbeing management is the difference between a good public service and bad public service. It’s the difference between life and death.”
Andy Rhodes, Director of Oscar Kilo, the National Police Wellbeing Service (NPWS), acknowledged that there needed to be better Occupational Health standards across police forces, as it wasn’t just police work that was making them ill, but the way organisations were being run, some with toxic cultures, heavy workloads and poorly delivered technology.
The Police Covenant was helping in some regards, said Andy: “We’re doing specific work to support families, to support leavers with skills, we’ve delivered bereavement counselling for families of officers killed in the execution of their duties and lost to suicide.” This work was also helping to provide an unfiltered view of police wellbeing to the Government, he said.
In addition, Authorised Professional Practice (APP) gave forces clarity on what they should be doing to look after their people, tackling issues such as resources, workload, culture and fairness. And Op Hampshire – supporting officers following assaults – has been rolled out across forces so it is no longer a postcode lottery.