Commenting after raising the issue with the Chief Constable Jon Boutcher at a meeting of the Policing Board on Thursday, Ms Bunting said:
“It is deeply concerning that over two thirds of response police officers and over half of neighbourhood officers in Northern Ireland have reported being assaulted at least once in the last twelve months. Those who serve in the PSNI or indeed any other police force in the United Kingdom should not have to grapple with this threat as they go about their duties to the public.
There needs to be a strong criminal justice approach to those who brazenly attack the police and other first responders. However that must work in tandem with the provision of occupational health support that is timely, accessible and effective.
I am alarmed at reports that the average wait time for police officers in need of treatment, including physiotherapy and mental health counselling, now sit at between six and eight months. That sort of delay is unacceptable. It obviously slows down the important process of getting officers and staff back to work but most importantly it will have a negative impact on personal wellbeing during this period.
It is crucial that there is a step-change within the organisation to delivering better outcomes. There needs to be concrete action to tackle OHW waiting lists. To his credit, Jon Boutcher has admitted the scale of this challenge. The average working days lost per officer has doubled in recent times and over 1,600 officers are either sick or on duty adjustments. That is the size of some small police forces and underlines the huge job of work to be done in terms of meeting the needs of those who have either been injured on duty or are unavailable for duty for a range of other reasons.
It is no consolation to those who are waiting on substantive treatment to say that ‘triage’ happens relatively quickly. That in itself will not deal with the pain and distress these officers are facing. We need to see end product. The PSNI speak at length about the need to protect the public from harm but they also need to display a cast-iron commitment to protecting their own officers.”