Top Suffolk police officer blames increase in sick days for mental health issues on officer cuts

Rachel Kearton has spoken of the pressures facing Suffolk's police force's mental health Picture: SU

Rachel Kearton has spoken of the pressures facing Suffolk's police force's mental health Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABULARY - Credit: Archant

Suffolk’s deputy police chief constable, Rachel Kearton, has spoken of her concerns after it was revealed that the number of sick days taken by police officers across the UK because of mental health issues soared by more than two-thirds in the past five years.

Ms Kearton said the increase in sick leave taken for psychological issues partly reflects a greater willingness among officers to talk about mental health.

But she also said there is a real rise in officers experiencing problems, driven by cuts to officer numbers since 2010.

"There isn't that capacity that there may have been in the past to give people the opportunity to take a decompression period or time-out to recover from stressful incidents," she said.

"That impact of constantly going from one traumatic incident to another, whereas previously officers did have that opportunity to take a bit of time out because there were other officers there that could do that job for them.

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"I don't have that opportunity to take somebody away from the front-line, and give them a break, give them some respite from whatever they've experienced.

"They have to deal with a horrendous road traffic accident and the very next day, or the very same day, they have to deal with another one because there isn't that opportunity to give them a break."

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Ms Kearton was responding to data obtained by 5 News which showed that the number of days missed by officers nationally due to psychological issues rose 69.4% between 2013/14 and 2018/19.

In Suffolk, this number almost doubled from 14,280.38 in 2014/5 to 28,110.58 in 2018/9.

But among the 33 police forces which responded to the request, the total number of officers fell by 4.7%, meaning the proportion of sick leave days for mental health issues rose by 77.7%.

The proportion of sick days for all other medical reasons rose by around 4% over the same period, the investigation found.

Some 32 of the UK's 43 police forces, as well as British Transport Police, responded to the request for information.

The figures show there were 390,608 sick leave days for mental health issues last year, compared to 230,631 five years earlier.

This equates to 19 out of every 1,000 working days taken as leave for psychological reasons in 2018/19, compared to 11 days per 1,000 in 2013/14.

For all other categories of sickness, 33 days per 1,000 were taken as leave in 2018/19, compared to 32 per 1,000 in 2013/14.

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