First Minister accused of failing to help protect officers during pandemic

The four Police Federation branches of Wales have joined forces in an open letter to the First Minister of Wales suggesting he has reneged on his commitment to protect police officers during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The Dyfed Powys, Gwent, North Wales and South Wales Federation branches are challenging Mark Drakeford on statements he made on Twitter and in a letter last April as the pandemic gained pace.

In those statements, he thanked police officers and forces for their hard work in “helping to keep us safe” and said: “Our public services are working around the clock to care for and keep people safe during the coronavirus pandemic. Frontline workers are putting our health and care first every day. We must continue to do everything we can to support them.”

But now Federation leaders have accused him of failing to support their calls for frontline police officers to be prioritised as the roll-out of Covid vaccination continues.

“First Minister, now is your opportunity to make a visible commitment to backing policing and reaffirm the statement you publicly made in April last year. Now is the time. Protect our frontline. Do everything you can to support policing,” they say in the open letter signed by Dyfed Powys Police Federation chair Gareth Jones, Gwent Police Federation secretary Nicky Ryan, North Wales Police Federation secretary Mark Jones and South Wales Police Federation chair Steve Treharne.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has publicly called for frontline policing officers and staff to be given some priority in the roll-out of the jabs but the final decision rests with the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation. Officers will currently only be invited for the vaccine based on their age.

Yet, the Federations point out in their letter, some other workers have been immunised despite not falling into vulnerable groups or being on the frontline.

Referring to the First Minister’s letter to the public, which was also signed by health minister Vaughan Gething and chief medical officer Frank Atherton, the Welsh Police Federation leaders say: “We are in a position of absolute frustration, disappointment and anger because our members are being treated with such apparent contempt by the Welsh Government.

“Across all corners of Wales, we have countless examples of police officers who, disgustingly, have been spat at and coughed over by people who claim to have Covid-19. This, of course, has health implications and puts our hard-working policing teams at further risk. No other key workers face such vile circumstances in the execution of their duties.

“Yet, when it comes to offering some protection to policing in the form of the Covid vaccination, the police service seems to be seen as the bottom of the pile, the inconvenience, the not worthy. At no point during this pandemic has any recognition being given to the risks frontline police officers face while protecting the public. They cannot socially distance while arresting someone or dealing with public disorder. They cannot do their job while isolating from everyone but their own family.”

The letter goes on to emphasise that police forces have no issue with those in the extremely vulnerable groups receiving their vaccines first along with frontline health workers and care home staff but that officers, staff, Specials and volunteers have not been able to ‘work from home’ and often cannot socially distance.

It cites large public support for police officers to be vaccinated, in the form of over 10,000 signatures on a Senedd petition. It also takes issue with evidence that some non-frontline staff in other sectors have been vaccinated ahead of the police and that any contingency plan to vaccinate officers with surplus vaccines has been blocked.

The Federation officials say: “Every single one of us agrees that our frontline health and social care workers should be protected but if non-frontline workers are getting a vaccine then surely frontline policing must be prioritised.

“On behalf of all frontline police officers, staff, Special Constables and police volunteers in Wales, we now demand that Welsh Government steps up and make a commitment to protect the protectors. This would not be a sign of weakness but one of strength and solidarity to the brave women and men who literally put their lives on the line every single day for us all.

“Policing is the one service which can never say no. Policing picks up the slack when other services struggle. Policing can never put up the ‘closed’ sign. Policing protects the life-savers yet those agencies have been, or are being, vaccinated yet policing, despite being side-by-side, are left vulnerable and not even considered for protection.”

Read the open letter.