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Too few officers, excessive hours and not enough treatment says PFNI as long-term sick leave among UK police for psychological issues increases by a third

By Claire Williamson

Published 05/04/2016

PSNI is investigating.
PSNI is investigating.

The Police Federation of Northern Ireland has called on the government to put in place "comprehensive treatment" for officers suffering from psychological conditions as new figures reveal officers and staff on long-term sick leave has risen by a third in the past five years.

Despite overall staff numbers falling, the number of police officers and civilian staff taking time off for psychological reasons increased from 4,544 in 2010 to 6,129 in 2015.

The figures, which come from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by BBC Radio 5 live Daily, also show a steady increase in overall long-term sick leave over the same period.

In 2010/11, 19,825 employees were recorded as being on long-term sick leave - defined by forces as either 28 or 29 days or more - compared with 22,547 in 2014/15.

Of the 46 forces in the UK, 40 responded to the BBC's Freedom of Information request. They came from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Police Scotland did not reply.

The PSNI was not able to provide the specific breakdown reasons for those on long-term sick leave because of the way it records the absence, but could provide the numbers.

The year when the highest number of officers were off on long-term sick leave was in 2014/2015 with 1,453 officers off on long-term sick leave along with 391 staff, making a total of 1844  employees of the PSNI.

This was an 11% increase on the previous year of 2013/2014 where 1,292 officers and 368 staff were off making a total of 1,660 employees on long term sick.

This was a further increase on 2012/2013 where 1,204 officers were off on long-term sickness along with 365 staff making a total of 1,569 employees.

And in 2011/12 1,150 officers were off on long-term sick leave along with 336 staff. A total of 1,486.

Chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland Mark Lindsay said the figures were of "great concern" and pointed out "very clearly the need to take immediate steps to address long-term sickness".

Mr Lindsay in a statement, said: "We have too few officers for the demands placed upon them. That, in turn, places massive pressure on our men and women.

"They are unable to take time off. They work excessive hours. Securing leave can be problematic. They are stretched beyond the limit and these figures are symptomatic of this fact.

"All the time, they have to remain on high alert, ever conscious of a terrorist threat from dissident republicans that’s deemed 'severe'.

"When inordinate demands are placed on our officers, it’s inevitable they become fatigued, which makes them more vulnerable."

Mr Lindsay said those battling with post traumatic stress and anxiety require more than a few days off work.

"We have voiced serious concerns for some time about the number of officers suffering psychological illnesses. These people have long-term issues to combat including post traumatic stress and anxiety and these conditions aren’t always addressed with a few days off work," he added.

"There has to be a meaningful programme put in place to assist these particular officers. Right now, they’re failing to get the service they need to deal with the day-to-day stress involved in policing society, which in turn is inevitably leading to more severe forms of psychological illness.

"They must be treated professionally and in a timely and humane manner. They are suffering dreadfully because of their psychological conditions and the onus has to be on the government to provide comprehensive treatment for these officers.” 

West Yorkshire Police recorded the largest rise in long-term sick leave over a year - up 44% between 2013/14 and 2014/15 - with Warwickshire police showing the biggest decrease, 17%.

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