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‘Covid is bringing the frontline to its knees’: Survey suggests Police Scotland officers are stressed and close to burnout

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Concerns have been raised over the mental health of police officers in Scotland after a new survey revealed around half are suffering from stress and burnout at work.

The new wellbeing survey – which looked at the views of over 2000 officers – also suggests that the force is under-resourced and would struggle to fulfil its duties if officers stopped working overtime when they were due to be off.

Commissioned by the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) and the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS), the 2020 Welfare and Wellbeing in Times of Covid Survey found that 28 per cent of respondents reported high levels of stress, while 57.6% reported moderate levels.

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A further 29% said they were experiencing moderate burnout (untreated chronic stress), with 16% enduring high levels.

A third of officers also went to work when they were mentally unwell, the findings stated, and a similar number reported being in poor physical health.

The survey – which was revealed in new current affairs magazine 1919 – added that half said they rarely, if ever, got an uninterrupted break at work.

Police Scotland said officers’ wellbeing a priority, adding that it has “a range of mechanisms” in place to support officers, including an employee assistance programme, a wellbeing champion network, post trauma assessment and mental fitness training.

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However, the report’s authors, Sean Campeau, Linda Duxbury and Neil Cruickshank from Carleton University in Canada, stated: “The data from this study, along with previous survey work we have done with Police Scotland, leads us to conclude that many frontline officers at Police Scotland are suffering from chronic stress associated with their circumstances at work.

“This is worrisome given research showing that the pandemic is likely to exacerbate issues associated with chronic stress rather than alleviate them.

“Officers who are suffering from chronic stress would benefit from time away from work. Unfortunately, the data from this study suggests that the culture within Police Scotland and the officers’ own work ethic means this is unlikely to happen.”

The research found that many officers reported being stressed because they did not have the appropriate resources needed to get their work done, while others did not understand what to focus their efforts on.

It also showed that around half the officers who took part had a rest day cancelled or disrupted multiple times in the six months prior to the survey being completed, while one in four officers had leave cancelled or disrupted.

David Hamilton, Chair of the SPF, said the findings should act as a warning that action needs to be taken.

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He told 1919: “These latest findings once again spotlight the alarmingly poor mental and physical health of Scotland’s police officers.

“It is disappointing but not surprising that many of these issues can be tracked to organisational culture and a lack of resources.

“Ever increasing demand, the impact of policing Covid and lack of support from government is frankly bringing the frontline to its knees. This research is a claxon to Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Government – they need to act now.”

Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor said policing is a demanding, but rewarding vocation.

She added: “The safety and wellbeing of officers and staff and their families is a priority for Police Scotland and we have a range of mechanisms to support our people, including an employee assistance programme, a wellbeing champion network, post trauma assessment and mental fitness training.

“I pay tribute to the professionalism and dedication of officers and staff who have stepped forward to play a crucial role in the national effort to combat the spread of coronavirus.”

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