Police Federation

"Is there light at the end of the tunnel?" - Police Wellbeing - A workforce under pressure

After a gripping session on misogyny on day one, PFEW Wellbeing Co-Lead Sue Honeywill was back in action delivering the Wellbeing Hour with her counterpart Paul Williams.

11 October 2023


After a gripping session on misogyny on day one, PFEW Wellbeing Co-Lead Sue Honeywill was back in action delivering the Wellbeing Hour with her counterpart Paul Williams.  

A hard-hitting session, sponsored by the College of Policing, the theme was “workforce under pressure” and joining Sue were a number of subject experts; Andy Rhodes, Wellbeing Lead, College of Policing, Professor John Harrison, Chief Medical Officer, College of Policing. 

Sue opened the session by laying out the pressures faced by police officers across England and Wales.  

“21st century policing is a complex profession,” she said. “As other public sector organisations have been contracting, the police have increasingly stepped into that space, occupying and assuming responsibility for issues that are best responded to by other agencies.” 

Forty per cent of incidents attended by police are mental health related, a staggering percentage, which underlines the breadth of work officers are managing alongside more traditional police work. 

“At the same time, 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,” Sue continued. 

“On top of this, media reporting paints a picture of incompetence and immorality within the service that is not a true representation of the over-whelming majority of decent and hard-working officers.” 

During her opening speech, Sue covered trauma, sickness and adjusted duties. She said: “There are many elements that impact on police wellbeing: An inexperienced frontline, burden of extremely heavy workloads, attending distressing incidents on a regular basis; student officers having to learn a complex profession alongside significant academic programmes, the repeated exposure to ongoing trauma. 

“We have seen a slight increase in long-term sickness absence and an increase in officers being placed on adjusted duties, which highlights they have been on recoup duties for over 12 months. Statistic show us we have a work force under pressure.” 

Due to officers being unable to access treatment through the NHS for physical ailments, often sustained on duty, the number of police officers on adjusted duties has risen, according to Sue. 

“The delays in the NHS not only impact on society but also policing, with officers being placed on back-office duties whilst they await surgery, rendering them non-deployable,” she explained.  

“I can speak from personal experience on this point after being driven at and injured on duty in 2020 and having to wait almost two years for surgery for a knee injury. The impact of these delays not only effects officers’ physical wellbeing but can often have a detrimental impact on officers’ mental health. 

“These are just some of the headline issues faced by our members. We must challenge chiefs to do much more to protect the rights and working conditions for their officers, divert work to the most suitable agency and support the hard-working and decent officers who serve and protect our nation. 

“The causes of absence, and in particular, mental-health-related absence are many, but with officer numbers proportionally at an all-time low and officer morale at its lowest, it can be no surprise we are witnessing extremely high levels of officers signed off for mental ill-health related reasons.” 

Following Sue’s briefing, Andrew Rhodes QPM MBE delivered a comprehensive update on the work of the National Police Wellbeing Service, Oscar Kilo. 

“The thing we can rely on now, that we didn’t have 10 years ago, is a phenomenal amount of research and data. The one thing that stands out for me is it is not the nature of the work itself that is making our people ill. It is the way we run our organisations, i.e. not doing the work we signed up for and doing work that doesn’t give us meaning and purpose, is very damaging to our mental health and wellbeing.  

“Workload, toxic cultures and poor leadership are primarily driving the vast proportion of negative indicators such as the intention to quit, psychological damage etc.”  

This was followed by an introduction to clinical governance by Chief Police Medical Officer Professor John Harrison, detailing the role of occupational health teams within policing and the role of those in charge. He called on leaders to make sure occupational health receives the attention required to ensure officer wellbeing is managed correctly.  

Paul Williams gave the hard-hitting closing remarks, outlining the true scale of the wellbeing issues in policing.  

“The evidence speaks for itself, in the current situation we have to ask ourselves, is there light at the end of the tunnel? We see some interesting but unsurprising statistics around the wellbeing of our officers.  

“These stats paint a stark and grim reality of the challenges we currently face, but even without the statistics the situation seems obvious to all of us. Whether we choose to believe it or not, it is staring us right in the face and is a real risk to the future of policing.  

“Assaults on officers continue to rise by a staggering degree, between 2022 – 2023 over 40,000 assaults occurred on police officers in a year.  

“Verbal and physical abuse is almost the daily norm. Any member of the public suffering this would rightly be considered a repeat victim, yet our officers face this every day for years, or even decades, through their career. There is still that assumption by many that this is part of being a cop - this is wrong and cannot be an acceptable culture.” 

Watch the session back below.

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