Governments accused of dereliction of duty over officer jabs

9 February 2021

All 43 Federation branches in England and Wales have published an open letter condemning the Governments in Cardiff and Westminster over their failure to prioritise police officers in the current vaccine roll-out programme.

It comes just days after the four Welsh Federation branches sent an open letter to the First Minister in Wales calling for frontline police officers to receive the Covid-19 vaccination as a matter of priority.

The latest letter is in direct response to yesterday’s announcement by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, that frontline police officers will not be prioritised in Phase 1 of the vaccination roll-out. He said they will only be considered for prioritisation after groups one to nine in the current programme which means they will be called for the vaccine based on their age. 

Signed by all branch chairs and the national Federation chair John Apter, the letter says police officers feel let down by the Governments’ steadfast refusal to prioritise the police. 

The chair of Gwent Police Federation, Steve Thorpe, said: “It’s frustrating and disappointing to see that the Governments are giving police officers such little consideration on this issue. Throughout the pandemic and the challenges they have faced, not aided it has to be said by multiple changes to lockdown guidance often at short notice, police officers have been on the frontline, seeking to help protect the public and the NHS while also carrying out their normal duties.

“They are putting themselves at risk but also worry about passing on the virus to their families if they pick it up while going about their duties.  They are dealing with the added threat from some members of society who are weaponising the virus by coughing or spitting over them while claiming to have the virus. It is time for the Governments to acknowledge to the role officers are playing in this crisis, the risks they are facing and the fact that operational resilience of forces will be impacted as officers get the virus or have to isolate.”

The latest letter states: “The health secretary could not even offer a guarantee beyond the first phase, only that frontline officers will be ‘considered’ for vaccination in the next phase. This is not only unacceptable to our members, it is also a dereliction of both Governments’ duties. It shows that warm words and platitudes mean very little.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel has publicly called for frontline policing officers and staff to receive some priority in the vaccination programme but it is the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that makes the final decision.

The Federation’s letter quotes the JCVI guidance, however, which is that ‘frontline health and social care workers at high risk of acquiring infection, at high individual risk of developing serious disease, or at risk of transmitting infection to multiple vulnerable persons or other staff in a healthcare environment, are considered of higher priority for vaccination than those at lower risk’.

The letter goes on: “The risks presented to our members show that this guidance applies to them. The nature of policing means our members are not always able to mitigate the risk of contracting and spreading this deadly virus. They often have to get up close and personal in many situations, which means the risk is ever present.

“One in three officers have reported being threatened by somebody claiming to have Covid. The level of incidents of people weaponising the virus – by coughing or spitting at them – has increased considerably during the pandemic. On behalf of Government, police officers are putting their lives on the line every day and run a very real risk of becoming infected and exposing colleagues, family members as well as the public.

“Thanks to the success and speed of the vaccination programme we know it would take less than a day to vaccinate the entire police service in England and Wales if the political will is there to do it.”

In their letter to Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, the Welsh Federation branches said they felt he had reneged on his promise to protect officers, stating: “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.”

Steve added: “Police officers understand the need for the most vulnerable people and those in the NHS or working in care homes to be vaccinated first but there is also a need to do the right thing by those who are protecting society.”