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MoD understaffing issues 'exacerbated' by sickness


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Concerns have been widely reported by the press this week that MoD Police are not passing fitness tests.

Eamon Keating

Eamon Keating


Sickness levels and injuries among the Ministry of Defence Police will spiral if the government fails to address the retirement age disparity, the federation has said.

Data published in MoD Police's annual report shows just 1.52 per cent of serving officers and 12.6 per cent of new recruits had passed the tougher new 7.6 firearms fitness test by March 2017.

Last year the MDP ran “without consequence” fitness trials as the force prepared to move towards regularising fitness standards across armed policing in the UK by 2020.

At the time, a quarter of officers had not yet taken the test.

But the MDP has confirmed 98 per cent of officers had met the standards required of their individual roles - 100 per cent have taken the tests and only two per cent have failed.

Defence Police Federation chairman Eamon Keating said of greater concern is the force’s ageing talent pool and the extended retirement rules.

MoD Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary officers cannot retire at 60 like their Home Office colleagues as they were left off the exemption list when the government set its retirement age for the public service at 67/68 years old.

Mr Keating said: “Policing morale is very low at the moment and that is true of the MoD as it is across the service.

“We expect short term sickness levels to fluctuate but the main issue is that we can expect to see higher levels of medical absences in the future as officers are forced to work into their late 60s if the Cabinet Office will not relent on the retirement age.

“What is absolutely not correct is that we have officers carrying firearms who are not fit to do their jobs. You will never have 100 per cent pass rates for firearms roles but we now have 100 per cent engagement and 98 per cent of our officers have passed.”  

The committee’s report echoed his concerns, stating understaffing problems had been “exacerbated by rising levels of sickness absence and officers unfit to perform the full range of duties”.

“The age profile of the force is still heavily weighted towards over 50’s.

“In the longer term, the effect of recruitment of new officers, the roll out of fitness standards to satisfy the College of Policing requirements for armed officers, and the introduction of annual medical checks for officers should result in improved attendance.

“In the short term, the problems are likely to get worse during 2017-18 because of the number of officers who may fail the fitness standard or health check.

“The Committee has placed on record its disappointment in the Treasury’s decision to decline the MOD’s proposal for an Enhanced Effective Pension Age of 60 for MDP officers. We remain firmly of the view that this decision should be re-visited at an appropriate stage in the future.”

The MDP achieved its long term sick and permanent ‘non-capable’ officers targets (60 and 19 respectively for March 2017) but its shorter term conditions, illness and injury levels increased (81 in March 2016 and 152 in March 2017).

Nine per cent of the workforce was assessed as not being capable to carry a firearm or on Long Term Sick leave.

The force is 200 officers short and although it recruited 265 officers last year, 257 left the MDP and the force was asked to make £15M savings mid- year “delivered at the expense of policing and security services to the department”.

The recruitment figures for women and BAME continue to be very low. According to the report 25 women and five BAME officers were recruited in 2016-17. Exit survey data showed 22 per cent of leavers had completed less than two years service and 11 per cent left to join another force or government department and “suggests that a significant number of leavers mentioned lack of job satisfaction or feeling undervalued.”

Mr Keating said the fact MoD officers may be based hundreds of miles from their family and support group may deter BAME and female officers from applying.

“In all honesty, firearms do not appeal to everybody. The best we can do to address these issues is to engage with these groups to find out the answers.”

An MOD Spokesman said: “Over 98 per cent of officers available for testing have met our high standards and support is available for those requiring extra help to boost their fitness levels.

“It is a condition of police service that our personnel must be fit and healthy and nearly all those who take a regular fitness test pass them.”

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