One third of police lack adequate PPE during pandemic, major report finds

2 December 2020, 08:48

Police have raised concerns over a lack of PPE
Police have raised concerns over a lack of PPE. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

A third of police officers have not had access to adequate personal protective equipment during the pandemic, a major survey has found.

The Police Federation, which represents more than 130,000 officers from the rank of constable to chief inspector, published the results of its annual Pay and Morale study based on responses from 25,558 members.

It found that in England and Wales, just over a third - 34% - said they "had not had access to adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) when necessary during the Covid-19 crisis".

For seven forces - Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, South Yorkshire, Suffolk, West Mercia, the Metropolitan Police and Norfolk - 40% or more said they had not had access to the equipment when needed.

In total, 42% of those polled said they did not have access to antigen testing for Covid, while 62% said they did not have access to antibody testing.

Asked whether they had received adequate training on the Covid crisis, 30% said no.

About 59% of those polled would not recommend joining the police, amid a national recruitment drive to hire 20,000 officers.

The poll found that three-quarters (76%) of officers said they were unfairly paid for the risks and responsibilities of their job during the pandemic, with just over half (53%) having to change their normal duties or shifts because of Covid-19.

Around two-thirds (65%) said the Covid-19 crisis had had a negative impact on their morale, and 31% said their household was financially worse off than before the outbreak.

Hundreds of officers who said they intended to leave the service within the next two years said the pandemic had a major effect on their decision to quit.

Around one in 10 either intended to leave the service in the next two years or were actively looking for alternative employment, 11% of whom said the Covid-19 outbreak had had a major impact on the decision.

Morale was the most common reason for leaving at 72%, along with the way the police as a whole are treated (70%).

A number of indicators in the survey had improved since last year.

Read more: Pfizer covid vaccine approved for UK use

Read more: LIVE updates - vaccine approved and new tier system begins

While more than a third of officers (37%) said they worried about money every day or almost every day, and 59% said they would not recommend joining the police, these figures were down from 50% and 67% respectively last year.

Just under half (48%) said their own morale was low, but this was down from 57% in 2019, and while 85% believed morale across the police service was low, this was the lowest figure since 2014.

However, 90% of those polled said the way police are treated generally has had a negative impact on their morale, compared with 83% in 2019.

National chairman of the Police Federation John Apter called the survey results "a cry for help" from police officers.

He said: "This year, more than ever, officers have been put under significant pressure, dealing with the day job as well as policing the constantly changing Covid rules.

"Despite doing their very best, they have been turned into the villains of this pandemic by some, damned whatever they do, and this constant criticism takes its toll.

"Whilst it might come as a surprise to some, police officers are human beings; they have their own worries about the virus and the fear that they take it home to their families."

The survey publication follows anger at the public sector pay freeze that will affect the majority of police officers.

Public sector workers earning less than £24,000 will get a rise of at least £250 next year, but Mr Apter said this would only apply to a small handful of officers who were on "an appallingly low starting salary".

Listen & subscribe: Global Player | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify

He said: "During the last decade officers have had an 18% real-term pay cut; now they face a public sector pay freeze next year, penalising the very people who have kept the wheels turning in the fight against Covid-19."

A plan is in place to try to recruit 20,000 officers to replace those lost as a result of Government budget cuts over the last 10 years.

A third of officers polled said they believed their force would be able to recruit enough officers to meet the target, while a quarter said they did not.

Assistant chief constable Jason Masters, who leads the National Police Chiefs' Council's (NPCC) work on PPE supply, said there was "no issue" with stocks among forces and that the wellbeing of officers was a "priority" for all police chiefs.

He said: "Every force has confirmed with the NPCC that they have adequate supply and also enough for the coming months."

He added that the latest monthly report from the Police Federation confirms all forces across the country "have been satisfied with their access to PPE for many months now".

The Home Office praised "brave police officers and staff" who have worked "heroically to protect the public during the pandemic", adding that anyone, including police, has access to coronavirus tests if needed.