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Sanction for prison officer with PTSD lifted after campaign by MLA Doug Beattie

Doug Beattie

A sanction against a Northern Ireland prison officer who took time off work for mental health reasons has been lifted.

The issue was initially highlighted by the Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie in an article in this newspaper.

Mr Beattie criticised the decision to give the officer suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) a written warning for absence.

He said the officer had taken time off for stress but was given the punishment after a return to work interview.

Mr Beattie called this "incredible", noting the acceptance from his employer that the man had PTSD - due to events that took place in work - and had returned to work without delay.

Now Mr Beattie has revealed a development in the case, after he raised the issue with Northern Ireland Civil Service Human Resources (NICSHR).

He added that several other serving prison officers with mental health illness had contacted him to say they had been "forced back to work," received written warnings and threats of dismissal.

The written warning in question, he said, was eventually lifted after engagement with the NICSHR, the Finance Minister, the head of the civil service and the permanent secretary for the Department of Justice.

Mr Beattie called it the right thing to do but questioned why it took pressure from an MLA for it to be rescinded. "If ministers are not willing to fight for their workforce then who is?" he added. "This is Mental Health Awareness Week we should be aware, - many people are not."

A Department of Finance spokesperson said: "The NICS takes mental health seriously and provides a range of support to colleagues including a welfare service, a 24-hour counselling service, and an early intervention approach to stress."

All written warnings are issued in line with the agreed NICS Sickness Absence Policy and can be appealed, they said.

The spokesperson added: "The delay in the appeal being considered was regrettable however, some work has unfortunately been impacted by the current Covid-19 pandemic."

Belfast Telegraph