A Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) survey has highlighted the reality of the human impact on the health of police officers during the pandemic.
PFEW’s 2020 Demand, Capacity and Welfare survey also starkly revealed how officers are risking their own wellbeing in the line of duty by working longer hours under constant pressure and with limited access to rest and recuperation.
The survey provides clear evidence of highly pressurised workloads, poor work/life balance amongst officers and details the damaging effects of the COVID-19 crisis on the health of rank and file officers.
It illustrated the major health risks involved in policing the pandemic, with a significant number of officers reporting they believed they had contracted the virus (26 per cent). Almost half (45 per cent) of these respondents believed they contracted the virus through work-related activities.
The weaponising of the COVID-19 virus against police officers was revealed to be an emerging threat to health and welfare. Almost one in three (32 per cent) reported a member of the public who was believed to carry the virus had purposely threatened to breathe or cough on them, while nearly a quarter (24 per cent) said someone had actually done so.
A total of 28 per cent had performed COVID-19 duties involving COVID-related deaths and other associated work.
Officers also said they had been frequently exposed to incidents which placed them at risk of physical and/or psychological harm, with 16 per cent stating they had suffered one or more injuries requiring medical attention due to work-related violence.
Over half (55 per cent) had been the victim of an unarmed physical attack over the previous 12 months, and this figure increased to 83 per cent when only examining responses from officers working in Response, Neighbourhood Policing, Custody and Roads.
Officers felt undervalued for the dangerous work they do, and high levels of fatigue and occupational stress were found in the survey to be commonplace.
Mental health and wellbeing issues were highlighted by 77 per cent of police officers, and the majority (90 per cent) of these respondents indicated psychological difficulties had been caused, or made worse, by working within policing.
A total of 32 per cent of officers who had taken sick leave, had done so due to stress, depression, or anxiety, while over half of the respondents (60 per cent) said their workload was too high.
Of the 12,471 respondents, 53 per cent said they had had found it difficult to carry out duties and tasks because they have been ‘too fatigued,’ while 39 per cent of respondents reported they were never, or rarely able, to take full rest breaks.
John Apter, National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “This survey clearly shows the huge pressure officers are under policing the pandemic and the negative impact on their welfare, with half of the respondents saying they have been physically attacked and 1 in 3 having been threatened by someone claiming to have COVID.
“As well as having an incredibly challenging and demanding job and all the pressures that go with it, police officers are also human beings who are looking after kids, poorly relatives, and have the same stresses as everyone else. This survey shows the harsh reality of policing during a period when police officers have simply done the best they could to help and protect the public.
“The results of this survey have come directly from our members – those police officers who are on the frontline dealing with whatever society throws at them. The increasing level of violence they face, especially involving the ‘weaponising’ of the virus, is a sad indictment of the society we live in.
“Government must hear them; they must be given all the protection they need to protect themselves and this includes being prioritised for the COVID vaccine. We have had enough of the warm words – we now need action.”
The biennial survey forms part of PFEW’s submission to the Police Remuneration Review Body, the non-departmental public body which provides advice to the government on pay and conditions for police officers at or below the rank of chief superintendent. It was published by PFEW’s Research and Policy team to feed into the 2020/21 PRRB process.