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MSPs warned of police officers burning out as mental health callouts soar

Police officers are at risk of burnout, MSPs have been told (Jane Barlow/PA)
Police officers are at risk of burnout, MSPs have been told (Jane Barlow/PA)

Scottish police officers are at risk of burnout as they struggle to cope with the soaring demand of mental health callouts, MSPs were told.

Around 80% of yearly calls to the force are from vulnerable people making “last resort” emergency calls, according to John Hawkins, assistant chief constable of local policing north.

In evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee, he told MSPs that fewer than 20% of calls to Police Scotland resulted in a crime being recorded.

He said: “There are 3.2 million calls coming into police every year – a call every nine seconds. Less than 20% result in a crime being recorded now.

“Overwhelmingly the calls for the service on policing are in the vulnerability space, including mental health.

“That has changed hugely over my service. Police wasn’t about that once upon a time. It was around crime and criminality much more clearly.”

And he called for a collaborative response between governments and all emergency services in tackling mental health concerns of the public.

It comes as MSPs heard how police officers were struggling to cope with the demand, due to insufficient powers and training to help vulnerable individuals.

Calls often surge late on a Friday afternoon as other services, such as GPs and social work, wind down for the weekend, the committee heard.

It often results in vulnerable people being taken to hospital in handcuffs surrounded by police officers, because there is often no other support available, Mr Hawkins said.

David Hamilton, chair of the Scottish Police Federation, told MSPs it was having a “devastating” impact on the mental health of officers, whose resources are being stretched thin.

He said: “The challenges which are coming through from our surveys is that people are burning out because they are so busy with things – not least mental health calls – but they are just not getting a chance to get away from work.

“It’s constantly getting to that critical stress level that people are beginning to burn out on.”

He said federation data showed that 45% of officers were experiencing high or moderate levels of burnout – while a third said they were going to work unwell.

Anxiety and depression is also the main cause for officer absences through a psychological disorder, followed by depression, with around 50,000 working days lost because of mental health in 2021/22, Mr Hawkins added.

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