By Oliver Farrimond
SCOTLAND’S police officers have taken more than 300 years’ worth of days off since the beginning of 2008 in Scotland – blaming STRESS for the sickies.
The thin blue line shrank even further as colleagues missed some 120,000 days on their beat with stress, anxiety, and other psychological factors being fingered as responsible.
And it has led to calls for the Scottish Government to offer “proper” support to the men and women trying to keep the nation’s streets safe.
According to data obtained through a Freedom of Information request, Strathclyde Police alone took more than 85,000 days off – more than 230 years worth of policing time in one of the UK’s most crime-ridden cities.
Some 36 staff even left their jobs permanently because of stress and anxiety.
After Strathclyde, Tayside police have the most days lost to stress – more than 25 years’ worth.
Lothian and Borders Police also saw seven personnel leave their posts permanently as a result of psychological pressure, as well as losing more than two years on the beat, out of a total of almost 18, due to officers suffering from “anxiety”.
Central and Grampian Police forces lost around 15 years of policing each, and Fife, who had the lowest total, missed just shy of five years off since the start of 2008.
Cops in Dumfries and Galloway took seven years’ worth of time off, and although they admitted that some had left their jobs permanently as a result, they would not disclose how many.
Scotland’s Northern authority dropped just over nine years.
“Very demanding job”
The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland confirmed that stress had led to “absence management issues”.
But they added that policing was a “very demanding job”.
A spokesperson said: “Very few people go to their work each day facing the possibility of being verbally and physically abused – but police officers do.
“There is evidence that stress can lead to absence management issues, and we recognise that attendance management regarding police officers and staff has been an issue in the past.
“However ACPOS, in conjunction with police forces across Scotland, have been addressing the issue and the trend is definitely moving downwards. “
Richard Baker, justice spokesman for Scottish Labour, demanded that the Scottish Government give “proper support” to police officers, and led calls for an “evaluation” into the high rate of absence.
He said: “We expect a great deal from our police officers, as they work in environments that are highly stressed with conflict a regular part of the job.
“It is vital that the Scottish government starts properly supporting officers and making sure that their welfare is properly taken care of.
“There needs to be an evaluation of why so much time off is being taken, and what can be done to better support officers.”
Tony McLaren, national coordinator for NHS Breathing Space – a confidential helpline for those struggling with personal problems – said that mental health issues were widespread amongst professionals.
He said: “Stress, depression and similar issues are just as serious as physical problems – this shows that mental health is everyone’s business.
“Many of the people who call us to talk about their problems aren’t unemployed or suffering from dementia – they’re professionals who face a lot of pressure in their working lives, and police officers are no exception.
“Our Police officers in Scotland are certainly under a tremendous amount of pressure – they have to be there when the public need them and the feeling of being under stress is something they will have to deal with often.
“Shift work can be a source of enormous pressure as well, and this can put strain on both Police officers and their relationships with their partners or families.”
“Occupationa health units”
An ACPOS spokesman added: “We have been focusing upon providing intervention through occupational health and welfare units to deal with symptoms at an early stage.
“These support networks have proved vital in tackling absenteeism, but we also have to recognise that policing is a demanding job.
“This has led to improvements in working conditions and enhanced officer safety training and improvements in officer safety equipment.”