Yorkshire’s emergency services workers provide an extraordinary public duty in doing jobs that frequently involve putting themselves in harm’s way, dealing with traumatic situations and witnessing harrowing events. Figures revealed today by The Yorkshire Post highlight how this is taking its toll, with almost 1,500 police, fire and ambulance service workers taking time off for stress, anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder in 2017/18, a four-year high.
Labour MP Chris Bryant, who has campaigned for harsher punishments for those who attack emergency services workers, says the underlying reality is frontline staff are “overworked, under-resourced and under frequent threat of physical attack”.
This has been echoed by the Chief Constable for North Yorkshire Police Lisa Winward, who has warned the NHS is unable to provide traumatised police officers with therapy quickly enough - with waits of up to six months for help with serious mental health trauma. As she notes, no one would be expected to make do with a broken leg for six months before receiving treatment, but that is what is happening when it comes to mental health because of capacity problems in the NHS. At her force, more than one in ten officers or staff are having to take time off work because of stress, depression, or anxiety. The Government is at least willing to admit there is an issue and has launched a policing review to allow officers to make their views heard, as well as introducing a ‘People Strategy’ with a focus on wellbeing for the fire service. But it is clear more work is needed.
In parallel to the way the public expect members of the emergency services to be provided with the right equipment and resourcing to be able to do their vital jobs effectively, the same standard must apply to ensuring those on the front line are given access to appropriate support when it comes to dealing with mental health issues.