REVEALED: Hundreds of South Yorkshire Police staff seek help for mental health issues as union hits out at austerity measures
Hundreds of South Yorkshire Police staff have sought help for mental health issues in recent years as a union today warns austerity measures have left resilience among officers at an 'all time low'.
Figures obtained by The Star under the Freedom of Information Act revealed 804 police staff have been the subject of 'mental health referrals' out of a current workforce of about 4670 in the last two years.
Top cops have introduced a number of measures aimed at improving staff well-being and ministers have pledged to increase South Yorkshire Police funding by millions of pounds over the next year.
But the national union which represents rank and file officers said Government-imposed austerity measures over the last several years have pushed police staff to breaking point.
Ché Donald, vice chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “These figures from South Yorkshire provide a small snap shot of a situation which is I am sure is replicated across England and Wales.
“Since 2010 the police service has lost more than 21, 000 officers (nationally), leaving resilience at an all-time low. As a result officers are being put under inordinate amounts of pressure and naturally this is taking its toll on their health and well-being.
“The Government must acknowledge that policing is in crisis and police officers are breaking because of the strain being put up on them. Investment is needed now to ease this pressure and to protect police officers allowing to them to continue to serve the public.”
The data showed there were 432 'mental health referrals' of South Yorkshire Police staff in 2017/18 – up from 372 in 2016/17.
This included officers who had sought out help themselves and those who had been referred by management.
The force said there are referrals from all different departments, not just front-line officers, and there is a package of support available, including counselling.
Staff subject to mental health referrals sometimes need time off work but not always as “short term alterations to duties/hours” are sometimes made instead.
Figures from the Home Office recently showed South Yorkshire Police has lost 166 front line officers over the last three years – a drop of ten per cent.
Over the same period, the number of violent crimes recorded in South Yorkshire more than doubled and officers have been dealing with seven fatal stabbings in Sheffield this year alone.
Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh, shadow policing minister, said austerity measures are “leaving communities more vulnerable.”
She said: “Of course, the extra demand being placed on the police by a rise in crime and cuts to officer numbers, coupled with an increasing need for them to be a service of first resort due to our crumbling public services, means that officers are being placed under increasing strain.
“It’s making life increasingly hard for them, and leaving communities more vulnerable.
“We urgently need to give the police the resources they need to do their job, and hire 10, 000 new neighbourhood police officers to take the pressure off.”
Last year Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire's police and crime commissioner, said the force has had to make savings of £73 million over the last seven years, which has 'stretched the service'.
Today he said: “Ten years of austerity resulting in reductions in numbers while demand has been rising is bound to impact on the health and well-being of officers and staff.
“In addition, the job of policing is inherently stressful and at times potentially dangerous. Taken together, this has resulted in increased mental health issues.
“In August, the chief constable and I each committed £5, 000 of funding to the Police Treatment Centre at Harrogate.
“This is a unique facility that treats police officers who have sustained physical injuries or who have mental or psychological issues as a result of their work.
“A police force will not perform well if its well-being is not being safeguarded.”
When asked if austerity measures have led to an increase in mental health issues for staff, Chief Inspector Jayne Forrest said: “Reduction in numbers invariably leads to bigger workloads and extra demand so the link is not lost on us.”
But she added the force has a “rigorous strategy” which includes more than 130 well-being champions and the force is also reviewing the number of well-being rooms they have.
The officer said: “On a daily basis police officers see things and do things that most people couldn’t imagine. Mental robustness is vital in order to undertake this difficult role.
“South Yorkshire Police’s biggest asset is its people and their biggest asset is their mental health and well-being.”
The Star asked Nick Hurd MP, minister for policing and the fire service, for comment but instead we were sent a statement from the Home Office.
The department pledged: “In 2018/19, South Yorkshire Police will receive £245.8 million in direct resource funding – a cash increase of £5 million compared with 2017/18.”
The statement added: “Our police officers and firefighters do vital work to keep our communities safe, and we take their well-being and protection very seriously.
“Since 2014, the Government has provided £7m to mental health charity Mind for targeted support for emergency services workers, and £7.5m to the College of Policing to pilot and, if successful, fund a national welfare service.
“The Government also provided £1.5m in 2017 to expand the Police Treatment Centre in Harrogate to improve provision of psychological support to police and other emergency services personnel.”