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Rising number of police officers off with stress
RISING numbers of police officers and staff in Hampshire are going off sick with stress- related illnesses, the Daily Echo can reveal.
More and more people through all ranks are cracking under the pressure as workloads mount while numbers of people are slashed in a bid to save money, with many being signed off long term.
Constabulary bosses admit they are “concerned” as they face ending the year with the highest rates of sickness since 2010 and say a number of measures have and continue to be put in place to help the 5,600-strong workforce.
The police and crime commissioner (PCC) is also so alarmed he has levelled questions at the chief constable while the police federation, representing rank and file officers, have demanded the force “pull their socks up” to tackle the issue.
The figures, obtained as part of a Daily Echo investigation, can be revealed today – just weeks after we told how Hampshire Constabulary, which has already shaved a staggering £55m from its budget, is facing further cuts of £25m. Over a period of seven years, it will have made savings of £80m by shaving off hundreds of jobs, selling off buildings and closing stations.
They show how in under eight months a total of more than 210 officers and staff have been off sick with stress and if numbers continue at the same rate it will hit more than 360 by the end of the year.
It is a tough time for chief constable Andy Marsh, whose job it is to implement the savings, and he’s already admitted more jobs will have to go.
But could the cost to Hampshire’s force be more than just monetary in the end?
Sources tell of an occupational health department that is seriously overstretched and under-resourced, police officers and staff struggling to take leave because there is no resilience to cover duties, people off on long term sick say there is a lack of support and some workers have cited that their health and wellbeing is suffering as more is put upon them.
Hampshire police bosses however insist they are doing what they can, having held stress workshops for those who faced redundancy under the “force change” programme, risk assessing particularly stressful roles like tackling child abuse and dealing with road accidents and psychologically screening officers before they are posted to a role.
They also plan to send a health bus to police stations across the county in coming months so that officers and staff can seek advice and get a simple health check while at work.
Nicky Cornelius, force director of HR and corporate services, said: “It’s difficult to say if it’s work related stress or other factors, but certainly we have seen an increase in stress related illness over the past year. It’s not always about work, it can be complex and involve personal and relationship issues.”
She told how occupational health workers talking to those affected have reported back that key issues surround workload, relationship issues and conflict with line managers and that stress was being felt at “all levels” of the force, with officers of all ranks becoming ill.
Ms Cornelius added: “Absolutely we are concerned about the impact on individuals and staff and we are working closely with support from HR and occupational health to engage with people from a very early stage.”
She pointed to the introduction of new technology like mobile data systems, which enable officers to work more efficiently on the ground rather than spending time travelling back and forth from the station, as well as slashing time spent filling in forms.
And she insisted that implementing joint working and sharing services with Thames Valley police, and plans to merge more services with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, were aimed at reducing pressure – not adding to it.
But the arrival of a police and crime commissioner, the force is also finding itself under scrutiny from PCC Simon Hayes whose concerns about sickness levels were part of his election pledge.
He said: “I have asked the chief constable questions on this and he tells me work is being carried out to reduce stress levels. I think the important thing is not to look at the force as a whole, but to look at each department and each section of the business to identify if stress is more of an issue in one area than another.
“I think that what broadly is the cause is that we are asking police officers to do more than they used to do both in terms of intensity and breadth of work. More is being put on and expected of people.
“We have been successful in reducing crime, reducing costs and dealing with a high level of intense crime requiring intensive policing but all that comes at a cost.”
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