The mental health of armed police officers who keep the nation’s defences safe – including protection of the nuclear deterrent – is deteriorating so badly that it risks catastrophic consequences for national security.
The Defence Police Federation, responsible for the interests of MoD police officers, says that since 2016, the number of Ministry of Defence Police officers who have taken off time for mental ill health – stress, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder – has gone up by 83%. The number of days off lost to these illnesses has increased by 52%.
At the Federation’s 48th Annual Conference today (27 June), Chairman Eamon Keating will further warn in reality these numbers are far higher as officers cover-up their ill-health – and “when things get hidden with armed police officers, that doesn’t make for a good equation”.
Especially when they are guarding our nuclear deterrent from terrorist attack.
The Federation will call on the MoD Police Force to reverse what he sees as its lack of care for frontline officers, or risk paying a heavy price.
“It is essential in any organisation, but massively more so where the organisation is predominantly carrying out critical policing and security functions – armed – while working excessive overtime, to demonstrate that those individuals working for you are both valued and wanted,” Mr Keating will say.
“The environment that our officers find themselves in now is one where none of them, that talk to us, feel valued or respected, but do feel as if their leaders look down upon them and treat them as if they are underperforming.
“This may not be the intention of those leaders, it may not be reality, but it is how our members feel, and it is the environment that they are working in every day.
“This is not only at the rank of Constable, but right the way through all of the ranks in the Force that we represent and that has the capacity to create a legacy where officers will leave or underperform through emotional and mental health stresses.”
He added: “The risk to our officers, if we don’t engage and invest in welfare, is that there is nobody there to help them and so, therefore, rather than coming forward with their concerns, things will get hidden.
“And when things get hidden with armed police officers, that doesn’t make for a good equation. We need to make sure that we are there for them, we’re listening to them, and the help that we give them is relevant and there at the time that they need it.
“We seem, as a Police Force, to have lost any want or need to support our workforce and we seem comfortable to pressure and push our officers into doing what’s required, rather than motivating them and encouraging them.”
The MoD Police has the second largest number of firearms officers in the country, after the Metropolitan Police, and it’s particularly important to look after the welfare of officers who have the responsibility of carrying arms on unsociable shifts and on overtime, the Federation said.
Combatting the rising tide of stress, PTSD and mental health illnesses among officers is at the centre of the Federation’s remit, Mr Keating will tell delegates.
“At this time the majority of support given to officers who are off work, or unwell, requiring assistance – comes from the Federation,” he will outline. “What we would like to see is an equitable provision from the Force to ensure that they meet their obligations and exceed them as well.”
The conference, taking place in Stansted, Essex, will also hear that DPF members are being let down over pay – officers only receive 95% of the pay of other UK police officers – and their pensions.
DPF members are excluded from the police provision of The Public Service Pensions Act 2013, which gives uniformed police and the armed forces a retirement age of 60, meaning they can only retire at the state pension age.
That has raised concerns about their ability to carry the weapons and heavy kit required of the dangerous role they carry out at the age of 67.
Mr Keating will urge the Government to properly reward the dedication and work ethic of MoD police officers during his conference address by resolving the pension and pay parity issues.
“The Federation are doing all we can to support our membership and to reach reasonable outcomes with our Force and wider government, but it is extremely difficult,” he will say.
“We work in an environment where members do what they do not only because of their unshakeable loyalty to their calling but because they work in an environment where they are told to do so, not because they are inspired or motivated.
“We genuinely fear that should this continue much longer the impact will be substantial.”