Eamon Keating, Chairman of the Defence Police Federation, looks at the pressures our members are under – and how the force must support them when the fall.
Occupational health services at the Ministry of Defence Police are woefully inadequate and need a serious shake up before it’s too late.
Our officers do a unique job and as such they are particularly vulnerable to illness. Whether it’s the fact that it can be a high-pressure role, that they are carrying firearms or simply that they are carrying up to 30kg of weight on their back for whole shifts.
The onus is on the force to provide decent, tailor-made support to help them when they fall – be it due to a musculoskeletal injury, stress or depression.
Currently, we rely on OcHealth Assist which is provided by the MOD. This is a Government-wide provision which is designed for non-operational employees.
But our members have very different needs.
They need better eyesight and hearing than the average worker. And have fitness and firearms testing, tactics training, public order and so on. The number of injuries and musculoskeletal effects that come from that are significant.
Yet we have officers who are awaiting occupational health referrals to do fitness testing that they aren't able to even engage because that process is taking months.
Our members carry guns and experience mental health issues. Surely that requires a specialist, tailored occupational health response?
Let me be clear; we are not issuing firearms to anyone who shouldn't receive them. But I am aware of one case where an officer, due to a certain condition, was told he should not be left along with computers or radios, but could still carry a firearm.
We've had officers invited to assessments which are then cancelled due to the providers inability to attend. Our members are being examined by people who have the same level of knowledge about their roles as they do about postal delivery, or other non operational roles.
The Army, the Air Force and the Navy all have their own medical provisions, their own rehabilitation centres, and their own doctors. But because we sit within the civil service side of the government we get access to the same provision that someone would get working for a company in an office. That does not sit well and it does not work.
The medical specialists that deal with our officers need a much better understanding of our work.
It is not the force’s fault – chief officers have no control over this. We at the Federation are doing our best to support officers. Through our Welfare provision and the Police Firearms Officers Association, officers have access to phenomenal counselling, physiotherapy and medical referrals. This has historically been supported by the force, but it shouldn’t be members paying for their own support.
This is happening in an world where morale is low and stress levels are high.
Officers are doing a high-responsibility job, in a dangerous environment against a backdrop of feeling undervalued and disrespected. They are working overtime and have a lack of security about the future. That pressure builds and it takes its toll.
And then we give these officers firearms.
How can these officers not be given specialist psychological support?
How can they not be given specialist medical support?
I can’t be clear enough in my advice to our members; if you need help, seek it and it will be there for you; whether the force or the Federation provide it. Just don’t wait, we will make sure you are looked after.
But on the wider issue of occupational health support, something needs to be done now. Otherwise we will see an impact on operational delivery.
We don’t want to have to wait until the point where a chief officer says he will have to disarm 50% of the force because he can’t be sure that are physically and mentally fit enough to meet the standards required of the role.
Not in today’s policing climate.