Open letter to Cheshire Police and Crime Panel

22 December 2018

Vice Chair Che Donald

Vice Chair Che Donald

In an open letter to Cheshire Police and Crime Panel, Vice Chair Che Donald, expresses his deep concerns over ignorant comments made at the Police Crime Panel meeting on Friday 14 December.

The comments, also published on the Police Oracle, are ‘unacceptable within modern police or indeed society’, argues Che Donald.

In the open letter to the panel, he states:

Dear Panel,

I was quite alarmed to read about your comments recently published in the Police Oracle regarding your visit to the Cheshire Police Occupational Health Unit. Comments which are documented within your report of the visit and then further discussed at your panel meeting on Friday 14th December.

I use the word alarmed as some of these comments, which I will further refer to in my correspondence, appear to reek of archaic views which is most certainly not acceptable within modern police or indeed society. It expresses to me that you do not seem to have a firm grasp or understanding of the increasing demands taking its toll on the officers policing Cheshire.

With regards the Cheshire’s Occupational Health Unit, I commend the force for still having one, in many other forces this has been removed and replaced with Employee Assistance Programmes, to reduce costs, allowing no face-to-face contact for officers to access. Although I note Cheshire Police lost two dedicated welfare officers, who were made redundant under priority based budgeting considerations 3 years ago. That being said, if these Occupations Health Units, can provide immediate assistance to officers, circumventing NHS waiting lists and thus receiving immediate treatment rather than going off sick and waiting treatment, should this not be seen as a positive and celebrated?

All employers have a common law duty of care to their employees in addition to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employee. To avoid any confusion, police officers are considered employees under this statutory legislation.

As such employees have the right to expect support, assistance and protection by their employer.

In 2016, our organisation ran a national police Demand, Capacity and Welfare Survey, the results of which have been peer reviewed, published in academic journals and referenced by the College of Policing, National Police Chiefs Council, Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Fire and Constabulary and the Home Office. We have broken the survey down into force reports of which one exists for Cheshire Police, I would strongly suggest the panel reads this, as it will give greater understanding of the concerns around the demand and capacity issues facing officers in Cheshire and the impact it is having on their Welfare and Wellbeing.

I have taken the liberty of highlighting some of the key findings for you which you will note goes against your assertions that ‘external social and economic pressure appear to represent a growing mental health, sickness problem’.

  • 73% of respondents from Cheshire Constabulary indicated that they had experienced feelings of stress, low mood, anxiety, or other difficulties with their health and wellbeing over the last 12 months.
  • 92% also indicated that these feelings were caused, or made worse by work.
  • 36% of Cheshire Constabulary respondents had previously sought help for feelings of stress, low mood, anxiety or other difficulties with their mental health and wellbeing, of which 45% had done so within the last 12 months.
  • 35% of respondents from Cheshire Constabulary presented with a non-diagnostic case of work-related stress.
  • 8% of respondents from Cheshire Constabulary presented with a non-diagnostic case of stress outside of work.

It is well known that without adequate rest, fatigue creeps in and contributes to low mood, stress and anxiety. This can lead to exhaustion and the development for further physical and mental health conditions and sickness.

Within our survey 58% of respondents from Cheshire Constabulary were never or rarely able to take their full rest break entitlement, and 88% reported having had two or more rest days cancelled in the previous 12 month period.

38% of respondents from Cheshire Constabulary told us that they have not been able to take their full annual leave entitlement in the previous 12 month period.

That certainly provides food for thought, don’t you think?

You will be only too aware of the reductions in police officer numbers for Cheshire since 2010, however demand has increased, which means less officers dealing with more incidents, often single-crewed to meet these demands. This in turn creates risks of injury in dealing with violent incidents and offenders, because there are not enough officers to safely manage these incidents.

This would explain why 23% of Cheshire Constabulary respondents reported that they had suffered one or more injuries that required medical attention as a result of work-related violence in the last year (2016) – losing more than 116 days in sickness absence. Whilst 28% of Cheshire Constabulary respondents also reported that they had suffered one or more injuries that required medical attention as a result of work-related accidents in the last year (2016) – losing more than 208 days in sickness absence.

Taking these factors into account, I would argue that not enough is being down to look after the officers in Cheshire Police. Sickness levels are an indicator, a symptom, these points I have referred to in my email identifies the causes, how could it therefore be fathomable to adopt an approach which prefers use of ‘the stick over the carrot’? This opinion is either ill-informed or just outright ignorant. In fact much of the work on-going within policing, with regards to the development of a National Police Wellbeing Service is looking at humanising the HR procedures (such as sickness) with a view to make it a person centred rather than process centred, because the stick doesn’t work…

Comments referring to ‘moral fibre’ and comparisons to past military experience are equally unhelpful and are not reflective of how massive positive changes have been made within all armed forces in addressing Mental Health and Wellbeing, where Policing is realistically 10-20 years behind the changes in attitude, culture and importance of Mental Health and Wellbeing the armed forces have made. I can only but assume Mr Fousert is referring back to the days where soldiers suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder were shot as deserters for a lack of understanding of the illness?

Mental Health affects 1-in-4 members of the public, for those working within the emergency services, this figure is double. I would implore the panel to be cognisant of the issues facing the officers in keeping Cheshire safe and read what is contained with the Cheshire Police Demand, Capacity and Welfare Survey 2016 and be aware that the results of the 2018 survey will be published in February 2019, thus you will be able to make direct comparisons.

Our police officers are under enough pressure, and also dealing with the effects of financial austerity, they should be revered for what they do.

Sticks and carrots are for an ass, I am sure no one wishes to be viewed as an ass, the Police and Crime Panel included.

Best wishes for Christmas and better informed New Year.