The Police Federation of England and Wales has pressed the need for officers to be given the correct protective equipment when policing the Covid-19 pandemic, in a discussion with MPs today.
Operational Lead Simon Kempton gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee via a video link, along with Police Superintendents Association president Paul Griffiths. They highlighted key issues facing the front line officers which must be addressed urgently.
Mr Kempton raised distribution issues with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), pointing out that some forces have orders in the system and yet the equipment is “still not getting to colleagues”. This raises the question as to whether or not this is due to issues with local management – suggesting there is a need for forces to handle stock better - or a problem with the supply chain.
Mr Kempton said: "My colleagues need access to protective equipment, must be able to get it replenished and then ensure it is the right spec of kit. There is a disparate picture across the country whereby some forces have PPE, whilst some colleagues in other forces don’t have any this far into the crisis.”
He added that spit and bite guards need to be available to every front line officer, not just in the custody environment, as we continue to see incidents of suspects using Covid-19 as a weapon.
Both officers pressed the need for colleagues to receive testing for the virus. Currently a large number of officers are unable to work after self-isolating or undertaking care duties. MPs agreed this will provide reassurance to families.
We understand the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) has ordered the virus detection tests which will arrive from mid to the end of April, but there will be some “real hard decisions" for senior officers over who gets them first.
Mr Kempton continued: “We have to be really clear and really honest in communications to colleagues to make sure expectations are met and we meet the promises we are given.”
Changes to demand was discussed during the hearing. Domestic violence and child abuse are expected to increase during the lockdown, although early data shows a small increase in mental health incidents. “At the moment we are coping, but the burden is starting to increase as we lose staff,” Mr Kempton said.
Speaking about the support that is in place for Federation members dealing with and attending traumatic incidents, including calls to recover the bodies of Covid-19 victims, he added: “The Federation has a Welfare Support Programme, but we need to recognise my colleagues over the next few weeks are going through traumatic times. When we come out into recovery time, we need support in place so we don’t completely collapse.”
Mr Kempton also highlighted that 10 years of austerity measures had led to the demise of force Occupational Health Departments.
The session was concluded by PFEW’s representative talking about the challenges of the swift introduction of the new police powers.
“When I joined the service 20 years ago, I was never taught how to police a pandemic. Me and my colleagues are continuing to learn. We now have consistent training and it’s working – but the messaging from the Government to the public needs to be consistent as well.”
Suggestions made to get members of the public who do not want to comply with lockdown rules included Government messaging to appeal to them at an emotional level.
“This isn’t business as usual, but our day job goes on alongside Covid-19 and we have got to do everything that we usually would – this increases burden on colleagues,” he concluded.