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A new dawn for police OH


March 2023 saw the first annual conference of the new occupational health practitioner network for British policing. Held at the Stratford Manor hotel, in Stratford Upon Avon, 41 police forces committed to supporting the network event, which set out the road map for the development of police occupational health.

With support from service director Andy Rhodes (@AndyRhodes_OK) and CC Pam Kelly (@GP_CCKelly), the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Workforce Coordination Committee, a new prospectus for occupational health was presented. Underpinning the drive to improve police occupational health services is the new police covenant which became a legal entity with the Ascent of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 into law. This requires the UK Home Secretary to lay before parliament an annual report on wellbeing in the police. The principles of the Act are that the service and sacrifice of the police family must be recognised and that members, or former members, of the police workforce must not be disadvantaged because of their roles. Early priorities of the police covenant include the establishment of occupational health standards and an improvement in occupational health practice.

Driving the occupational health project is the new Clinical Governance Group (CGG). Deliverables will result from the groups attached to the CGG. Current activity is focused on new guidance to assist the medical assessment of police officer recruits, improving the police officer ill health retirement process and addressing suicide prevention and postvention. More information may be found on the Oscar Kilo website and elsewhere on this site. The police occupational health practitioner network will play a very important role in developing and delivering new guidance on practice and system change. The quality principles guiding future work are those of co-production, clinical leadership, system alignment and subsidiarity. This recognises the importance of involving clinicians and stakeholders from the 43 Home Office police forces, as well as the non-aligned forces in the UK. It also takes into account the necessary balance between central direction and the freedom of forces to implement guidance according to local circumstances.

The network is a multidisciplinary initiative that is open to all UK police forces. It will complement the existing uni-disciplinary organisations – ALAMA (Association of Local Authority Medical Advisors) and OHNAPS (Occupational Health Nursing Advisors in Police Services). It will facilitate addressing the many issues facing police occupational health, not least the difficulties in recruitment of new clinicians to the service. A new marketing strategy will see the development of an occupational heath proposition that will describe the contribution of occupational health to the work of the police and how a career in police occupational health will involve rounded practice embracing primary, secondary and tertiary prevention, opportunities for field work and investment in training and personal development. Working in collaboration with the Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing resourcing of occupational health departments will align to the new accredited training levels and professional development. The focus on quality will see the implementation of the latest occupational health standards (enhanced and advanced) which were trailed at the conference. As with the Foundation Standards, development has occurred in conjunction with the Faculty of Occupational Medicine and are intended to assist with SEQOHS accreditation, as a kite mark of quality.

Two long-term projects were trailed at the conference – engagement with the NHS and other healthcare providers and the creation of a police health observatory. A key aspect of the police covenant is the need to ensure that healthcare provision is sufficient to treat police officers and police staff who develop role-related illnesses such that they are not disadvantaged compared to the local population. Healthcare provision must also recognise the sacrifice made in policing local communities. Work is on-going with the Home Office to address this using the Armed Forces covenant as a template. The police health observatory will underpin evidence-based practice by developing data collection systems to inform health needs assessments and to measure the impact of interventions. Supporting mental wellbeing is a high priority. Mental health surveillance is becoming established and there is now a good data set that can inform policy, as well as demonstrating the benefits to individuals.

2023 will see the development of the network with support of the Oscar Kilo team. There will be many challenges to be overcome to “level up” police occupational health and to take it to the next level. However, the building blocks are being put in place. Together we will be OK!

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