Annual conference: â€˜There is a person at the end of the policyâ€™
A panel session at this year’s annual conference saw the secretary of South Wales Police Federation urging colleagues to remember there is a ‘person at the end of the policy’ during the ill-health retirement process.
Leigh Godfrey, who is also the branch’s ill-health retirement liaison officer, discussed several concerning issues surrounding ill-health retirement and how the process should be made a lot easier for those involved.
In reminding the auditorium during the break-out session that ‘the importance of ill-health retirement can’t be lost’, he said that the Federation can help those who need it, ‘to retire with the dignity and respect they deserve’.
He explained: “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.”
An eye-opening video, which introduced the session, showed Leigh telling how training for reps in this area has ‘increased massively over the years’.
He continued: “It’s a tough subject to get your head around, but you really do learn to understand the impact it has on members and gain a passion for representing them through a really difficult time - not only in their personal lives - but in their employment. It has an impact on their lives altogether.
“The Ill-Health Retirement Forum, which is a relatively new addition to teams has been invaluable. It’s a one-stop shop for people to go and ask questions to gain confidence in this particular field. It’s really important we learn together for the benefit of our members.”
He continued to cite a case he is working on, where the officer was left with significant mental health issues.
Under the care of the NHS, his case was put forward to the selected medical practitioner (SMP). They agreed he was disabled but could not find him to be permanently disabled.
South Wales Police Federation applied for funding from the Federation HQ claims department which approved a professor in mental health disorders. New evidence was submitted to the SMP, but the case to prove he is permanently disabled was still dismissed.
Had then faced a Police Medical Appeal Board to successfully appeal the decision.
“This officer was so unwell he couldn’t put on a 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,” Leigh explained, “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.”
During the session, Leigh was joined by fellow panellists, National Board member Gemma Fox, senior solicitor for Taylor Law, Mark Lake and ill-health adviser at the Metropolitan Police Paul Turpin.
Echoing Leigh’s comments, Gemma agreed: “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.
“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?”
The panel also told delegates there should be a greater focus on rehabilitating and supporting officers as soon as possible.
Gemma said: “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.”
Leigh ended: “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.”