17 May 2022
Police forces should be more compassionate and improve the stressful and arduous ill health retirement process.
Police Federation of England and Wales’ Ill health Retirement Lead Gemma Fox spotlighted the important message today during a panel session during day one of PFEW’s Annual Conference 2022.
She said: “Currently the ill health retirement process is adversarial, leaving officers feeling even more devalued and more unwell at the end of the process.
“Forces need to understand there are people at the end of the process, these are real people who are not going through this process by choice, they are going through it because they are unwell or injured.
“The biggest thing that could change overnight is an element of compassion and an element of understanding that police officers need support,” she continued.
“Forces need to step back and look at their own processes and really ask themselves, if they were going through that process, how would that make them feel?
“The steps we have to go through are unbelievable,” South Wales Police Federation Secretary and Ill Health Retirement Liaison Officer, Leigh Godfrey said. “The process has become really adversarial and the inconsistency across forces is just phenomenal.
“What I would ask forces and pension authorities to remember is that there’s a person at end of this policy and it’s an arduous policy and it really does damage the people going through it.”
In an eye-opening intro video, Leigh promoted the Fed rep role of ill health retirement liaison officer and the said training for reps in this area has “increased massively over the years.”
“It’s a tough subject to get your head around, but you really do learn to understand the impact it has on members and gain a passion for representing them through a really difficult time - not only in their personal lives - but in their employment. It has an impact on their lives all together.
“The Ill Health Retirement Forum, which is a relatively new addition to Teams has been invaluable. It’s a one stop shop for people to go and ask questions to gain confidence in this particular field. It’s really important we learn together for the benefit of our members.”
He cited a case he is working on, where the officer was left with significant mental health issues.
Under the care of the NHS, his case was put forward to the selected medical practitioner (SMP). They agreed he was disabled but could not find him to be permanently disabled.
South Wales Police Federation applied for funding from the PFEW HQ Claims Department which approved a professor in mental health disorders. New evidence was submitted to the SMP, but the case to prove he is permanently disabled was still dismissed.
Had then faced a Police Medical Appeal Board to successfully appeal the decision.
“This officer was so unwell he couldn’t put on police uniform, it made him physically unwell. They allowed him to come into work in plain clothes, but he was surrounded by uniformed officers, so it had a detrimental impact on his mental health.
“He is still too unwell to speak about his experience.
“Unfortunately, he has had to go through this really distressing process to get that assessment.”
Mark Lake, Senior Solicitor at Taylor Law Legal also acknowledged the “process can take several years”, while Paul Turpin, Metropolitan Police Federation Ill Health Advisor, added “People do come out worse in the end and less well than when they went in.”
The panel also told delegates there should be a greater focus on rehabilitating and supporting officers as soon as possible.
Gemma said: “We need to make sure forces value and put in the right support mechanisms for officers injured on duty. We don’t want people to become broken.
“Ultimately, if we don’t look after our people, they will need to take ill health retirement.”
Paul concluded: “Forces should invest in their Occupation Health departments to rehabilitate people. That makes financial sense with officers not having to go through ill health retirement process.”
When asked by a delegate whether there should be more regulations for SMPs, Gemma replied: “There needs to be a commitment and agreement across forces with selected medical practitioners. Where do their standards come from? This is such a niche area and there should be some commitment and I would love to see forces sign up to a pledge.”