“There is a person at the end of the policy” agreed the panel as they discussed ‘navigating ill-health retirement’ at this year’s Police Federation of England and Wales annual conference.
The session involved National Board member Gemma Fox, South Wales Police Federation secretary Leigh Godfrey, senior solicitor for Taylor Law Mark Lake, and ill-health adviser at Metropolitan Police Paul Turpin, all highlighting the need for forces to be more compassionate during the ill-health process.
Gemma reminded the auditorium that these “are people, our colleagues” and that the current process “leads to them feeling more undervalued”.
“Currently the ill-health retirement process is adversarial, leaving officers feeling even more devalued and more unwell at the end of the process. As a Federation, we need to understand the value of ill-health retirement,” she said.
“Forces need to understand there are people at the end of the process, these are real people who are not going through this process by choice, they are going through it because they are unwell or injured.”
Gemma said the best thing that could impact the process is an added element of compassion and understanding that police officers need support.
She continued: “Forces need to step back and look at their own processes and really ask themselves, if they were going through that process, how would that make them feel?”
During the session, it was stressed that there is not simply one process that is followed by each branch but instead 43 different ways of approaching ill-health retirement, depending on the force.
Paul elaborated by saying: “We need a more consistent approach across the country.”
Echoing Paul’s comments, Leigh, who is South Wales Police Federation ill-health retirement liaison officer, said: “The process has become really adversarial and the inconsistency across forces is just phenomenal.
“What I would ask forces and pension authorities to remember is that there’s a person at end of this policy and it’s an arduous policy and it really does damage the people going through it.”
A video, which opened the session, showed Leigh urging those attending to remember the importance of ill-health retirement. In the eye-opening clip, he said: “We need to help people retire with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
He went on to cite a case he is working on, where the officer was left with significant mental health issues.
“This officer was so unwell he couldn’t put on police uniform, it made him physically unwell. They allowed him to come into work in plain clothes, but he was surrounded by uniformed officers, so it had a detrimental impact on his mental health.
“He is still too unwell to speak about his experience. Unfortunately, he has had to go through this really distressing process to get that assessment.”
The panel also shined a light on issues surrounding mental health and disability. They discussed how in some cases, the common misperception is that these officers ‘are underperforming’, with those ‘who love their job’ often getting put into ‘back office’ roles rather than their injuries or wellbeing being addressed head on at an early stage.
Mark continued: “The majority of our cases now involve mental health, and the current process isn’t going to help them.”
The panel also told delegates there should be a greater focus on rehabilitating and supporting officers as soon as possible.
Leigh said: “If we’re struggling now, how will we meet demands as the retirement age gets older? There’s a person at the end of the policy, so let’s start putting these people first.”
Gemma agreed: “We need to make sure forces value and put in the right support mechanisms for officers injured on duty. We don’t want people to become broken.
“Ultimately, if we don’t look after our people, they will need to take ill-health retirement.”