Remarks by the Minister of Police, E.N. Mthethwa, MP at the official opening of the South African Police Service Medical Scheme (Polmed) House, Lynwood, Pretoria
21 Jun 2012
Programme Director, Mr Vuyo Mbuli
National Commissioner of Police, General Riah Phiyega
Principal Officer of South African Police Service Medical Scheme, Mr Mbasa Mxenge
Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of POLMED, Lt General Mazibuko
SAPS Senior Management present
Board of Trustees of POLMED
Members of the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen
We are humbled to have been invited to this occasion, which marks the official opening of the South African Police Service Medical Scheme (POLMED) House. The opening of this building must represent a new hope, a new beginning and must have significance as having contributed to the wellbeing of our men and women in blue.
Our presence today should be premised along this understanding; that the new building must become a symbol of hope to police officers and their immediate families, who for whatever reason, may be going through work or personal challenges.
The magnificent structure in front of us must not be seen as the property of the Board of Trustees or the management of police, it belongs to the police officers. It must become a beacon of hope to those who, in the cause of their commitment to fight crime, often experience stressful conditions.
It is a matter of fact that policing remains a very difficult and challenging duty. It is a duty that requires commitment and putting the nation’s interest ahead of one’s personal interest. Members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) are continually exposed to traumatic and stressful events.
In many instances they are not emotionally and psychologically equipped to handle those stressful situations which frequently lead to catastrophic impact on their mental wellness with unfortunate outcomes.
It therefore becomes our responsibility as society to support our men and women in blue. To this end, we want to applaud POLMED’s support as you provide extensive psychiatric benefits to members through various sets of disease management programmes. Yet we are also aware that some of our members are still reluctant to utilise these available programmes.
We have noted that unfortunately, the uptake and utilisation of the available psychiatric benefits via the Psychiatric Disease Risk (DRM) management program is well below optimal levels. We further note that the voluntary enrolment onto the DRM program is not reaping the benefits you envisaged it would have, mostly due to the fact that members do not enrol onto the program.
In addition we have been informed, that based on the POLMED analysis, there are three specific psychiatric conditions that in all likelihood have their origin in the stressful working environments that SAPS members find themselves in. These conditions are depression, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Based on the claims experience, we learnt that there are 10 636 members suffering from depression, 2 763 members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. What is further worrying is the number of attempted suicides by SAPS members.
Statistics indicated that during 2010, there were 84 attempted suicides however we are encouraged as there has been a steady decline during the 2011 and the beginning of 2012. It is therefore a wakeup call for all of us to take action in ensuring the downward management of these trends. We must all continuously encourage our members to utilise all the freely-available employee assistance services. It will be for their benefit after all.
Whilst there have been some members who have utilised such programmes, sadly, we still have some myopic perceptions that going for counselling is considered ‘sissy or weak.’ We need to dispel such misconceptions because they are destroying and negatively affecting our members.
Some SAPS members are not forthcoming with the specific reasons they opt not to participate in psychiatric programmes, however possible reasons for them not joining the programme could be the fear of members jeopardising their individual chances of promotion within SAPS when they register for a psychiatric condition.
Other factors might be that SAPS members are prohibited access to personal firearms if they suffer from a psychiatric condition. It might also be that members would feel weak amongst their peers if they seek psychological assistance and help. There is nothing to be ashamed of when one goes through a difficult psychological state, in fact, it implies self-introspection and the ability to seek help must be commended as opposed to being perceived negatively.
To this end, we also want to specifically make a call to police unions to play a prominent role in encouraging their members to enrol in such programmes. The management must continually review whether the programmes are adding value to the wellbeing of members.
We are aware that the SAPS, via its Employee Health and Wellness services, does provide support to all members. What we would need to look at is the issue of capacitating these important units, whether from resource, personnel or financial perspectives.
There are 515 service providers (psychologists, social workers and chaplains) providing debriefing services to the active SAPS members. However, if one considers the fact that there are over 160 000 active SAPS members, the reality is that the available 515 providers are insufficient to reach all SAPS members that require help. There are currently between 3 000 and 4 000 SAPS members that are receiving debriefing consultations via the Employee Health and Wellness services within SAPS.
We wanted to share these above statistics and bring to the attention of South Africans that the fight against crime remains a challenge. Yet despite such challenges, police still continue to score victories daily. Such successes are not coincidental but achieved through dedication of members, who often operate under very stressful conditions.
I have therefore requested the National Commissioner of Police, General Phiyega, as part of her immediate priorities, to capacitate these important units as a matter of urgency. Like any other organisation in the world, unless we begin to invest into our human capital, we shall not succeed in eradicating crime.
We further urge the management of police to ensure that there are regular debriefing sessions for all members of SAPS. The advantages of such sessions will ensure that members with underlying psychological problems are identified much sooner. They will be referred to a psychiatrist much quicker and receive appropriate treatment much earlier.
Once we begin to address this challenge, we should be able to see a difference in the manner our officers conduct themselves. We should be scoring more victories against criminals, while at the same time ensuring that we have healthy and psychologically-fit members.
Almost on a daily basis our members face dangerous and vicious criminals, who will not hesitate to kill our officers or even law-abiding citizens. We want to highlight this reality to all South Africans so that as they criticise police, they should do so having a clearer understanding of environments within which police operate. Commercialising and politicising crime does not help the cause.
Our police officers need all the support they can get. Yes, where they do wrong or fail to deliver, they must be constructively criticised. But it will go a long way in motivating them so that in areas where they excel, that people give them a pat on the back for a job well done.
We are therefore encouraged to learn that as part of POLMED’s contribution to the wellbeing of our members, that in partnership with SAPS, they organised various wellness days across the country. We commend such an initiative that demonstrates a good example of a public-private partnership and support a belief that employees who take responsibility for their own health are more productive at work.
We would also like to challenge POLMED to assist us in our process of transformation of the SAPS. We are on progress in our endeavours of creating the type of police service we want to see, which is a police service that inspires confidence. Amongst others an officer we want to see must be: a police officer who respects and upholds the Constitution, who does not tolerate disloyalty and ill-discipline, who is enforcing the law without fear or favour.
We have over the past three years emphasised the point that as we recruit members into the SAPS, we need to stress aspects of firm and fit police officers. In fact this is one of our 10 key priorities for this current financial year. Over the last year we have made certain changes in our approach to recruitment and our official standards have been bench-marked against other countries, to this end we compare favourably.
We do not need overweight police officers. Currently it is estimated that globally 1.1 billion adults are overweight, accounting for approximately 26% of the world population. We must ensure that SAPS members do not form part of these figures and as we transform this department, we need to set a good example when it comes to fitness.
SAPS management, in particular station commanders, must prioritise training and fitness of officers, by putting in place at police stations various intervention programmes aimed at addressing obesity and potential health problems. There is no unfit police officer who can chase and arrest criminals.
We also want to challenge POLMED to ensure that you contribute to the fight against corruption as and when you detect it, whether within SAPS or outside. You must not limit your role to being a health programme scheme but must play an active role in helping government fight this scourge.
To illustrate this point, you may have noted various reports that police are abusing sick leave and various forms of absenteeism. Abuse of sick leave has indeed been identified as one of risks to the department. Part of this challenge is that there are some dubious doctors who are working in collaboration with these culprits by supplying them with false medical certificates.
We need to expose such malpractices and ensure those who abuse their medical professions are investigated and arrested. Equally we must not spare any SAPS employee who abuses the system. POLMED must work closely with SAPS Commercial Crime unit to report any such practices.
We must all adopt the same zero tolerance approach so that we not only regulate ourselves better, but ensure that providers and members who defraud the scheme and its members are punished. What we further call for is not just arrests, but harsher convictions to such suspects.
Over the past three years, we have worked towards ensuring that we review and strengthen our laws to favour citizens, while dealing a blow to criminals. Whilst the rights of all citizens need to be protected as entrenched in our Constitution, rights of criminals must not supersede those of law-abiding citizens.
As the police leadership, we have been consistent in our expectation from our police officers. We expect nothing but excellence from them. We shall also ensure that we continue to drive and improve the transformation agenda of the SAPS, which encompasses the whole human resource value-chain; from recruitment to retirement.
As we work towards improving and turning SAPS into a fully-effective and well-oiled machine, we undertake this process with full confidence of the support of millions of law-abiding South Africans. We have a will, we have a way and we have a clear vision.
We congratulate POLMED on your new home and urge you to ensure that this new building truly becomes a beacon of hope, an enabler and positive contributor to the wellness and good health of our police officers and their families.
I thank you.
Issued by: South African Police Service
21 Jun 2012
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