Police union's £1m fund to aid officers suffering mental health difficulties
A £1 million fund has been established to help police officers suffering from psychological problems after almost 38,000 days were lost to such issues in the past year alone.
In a UK first, the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) has set up the scheme to help officers suffering from problems including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The police union said there was a "crying need" for action to address debilitating conditions including PTSD, stress, anxiety, depression and more.
The PFNI said the problem was getting steadily worse. Last year 37,674 days were lost to psychological illnesses - a jump of 60% on 2013.
Federation chairman Mark Lindsay called for a sea change in the way psychological illnesses were addressed by the PSNI and the Government.
Mr Lindsay said officers waiting for treatment should not be penalised by being reduced to half-pay and then no pay for being on long-term sick leave.
Speaking to representatives at the 44th annual conference of the PFNI, he added that the new psychological wellbeing fund should serve as a catalyst for statutory agencies to step up to the mark and do more for rank-and-file members of the force.
Mr Lindsay told the conference yesterday: "The caseload isn't getting any lighter, yet the resources are both pitiful and wholly inadequate to deal with the issue.
"(Treatment) waiting times are unacceptably long.
"Many officers are left to their own devices, unaware of the signs and the symptoms of stress.
"They are sufferers of psychological illnesses who are also victims because of the job that they do.
"This problem needs urgent intervention. Whole families are suffering because those who are hurting are falling through the cracks.
"That, colleagues, is a crying shame and a professional scandal. They need a lifeline."
Mr Lindsay explained that the fund would be administered by the PFNI, through partner agencies, over the next three years.
Through the organisation, extra therapists and psychologists will be provided to increase the capacity to deal with mental illness in the force.
"We want to accelerate rapid access to those who need it urgently and are being failed by the current system," Mr Lindsay said.
The initiative will have an educational and preventative element designed to raise awareness of psychological issues.
It will also aim to improve resilience by providing officers with tools and strategies to cope with strain.
"What we're doing is providing a breathing space to allow the statutory bodies to catch up and put adequate funding in place to address this issue," Mr Lindsay told the conference.
"There is a statutory role - a statutory duty - to deliver professional services, but the bodies charged with delivery are finding it difficult to meet demand.
"In response to this severe issue, the federation decided it would take the initiative."
In a wide-ranging address to more than 100 federation representatives, the PFNI chairman also repeated calls to increase officer numbers.
He additionally addressed issues over difficult working conditions and the ongoing severe threat posed by dissident republican terrorist groups.