THE Government must “urgently” address the mental health crisis in Merseyside Police following a massive rise in absences, St Helens’ MP has said.

On Monday, the Local Democracy Reporter Service reported there has been a 345 per cent increase in the days lost through police staff being absent due to a mental health-related illness since 2009.

A Freedom of Information request revealed that in 2017-18, a total of 37,463 days were taken by staff (officers and civilian employees).

That figure was far lower in 2009, with a total of 8,419 days lost, and is also a significant jump on the 26,240 days lost in 2016-17.

Marie Rimmer, Labour MP for St Helens South and Whiston, said police officers are being “stretched to their limits”.

“These statistics are a damning indictment of the immense pressure placed on local police forces under this government” she said.

“Such a huge increase in police sick days has a clear context, and the government must address this mental health crisis in Merseyside Police urgently.

“The roots of this are clear. Merseyside Police have lost funding for 1,119 officers since 2010.

“With almost a quarter of our police force lost, and an even higher loss rate of PCSOs across Merseyside, our police officers are being stretched to their limits with minimal support.”

Conor McGinn, Labour MP for St Helens North, said the figures were “deeply concerning”.

“The thin blue line is getting thinner,” he said.

“Our police officers are being stretched to breaking point due to funding cuts and the reduction in officers.

“Police officers want to do a good job and serve our community well, but the demands being placed upon them are taking their toll.

“These figures are deeply concerning and I will be discussing them with the Police Commissioner, the Chief Constable and Merseyside Police Federation.”

Sickness levels for both men and women have risen significantly with Merseyside Police since 2009, although the disparity between the two has closed considerably.

In 2009-10, a total of 6,401 days were lost by female staff, while 2,018 were lost by male staff.

By 2016-17 the figures were virtually identical, with 13,030 days lost by male staff and 13,210 by female staff.

The gap widened slightly in 2017-18, with 17,661 days lost through male staff compared to 19,802 days lost through female staff.

“The figures also show that men are now just as likely as women to take sick leave for mental health reasons in Merseyside’s Police,” Ms Rimmer said.

“I welcome the fact that the conversation around mental health is opening up among men in our police forces, who may now in a shifting climate feel more comfortable to disclose a mental health condition.

“The government must bring an immediate end to the austerity which has seen Merseyside Police, and forces around the country, cut to the bone so that our police no longer become ill through carrying out their vitally important work.”

Geoff Broadhead, director of resources for Merseyside Police, said: “We are committed to helping our own officers and staff wherever we can by supporting them with any mental health issues they may be going through.

“Our own police officers and staff work in difficult, challenging and often distressing situations and it is important to be able to talk about and recognise the signs of mental health symptoms, both in ourselves and in others.

“We are aware that cuts in funding have put more pressure on our staff and all police forces across the country.

“Merseyside Police has through the mental health charity Mind, signed up to the Blue Light Services ‘Time to Change Pledge’. The pledge demonstrates the force’s commitment to help look after our own staff who are experiencing poor mental health.

“Following all the initiatives we have implemented, we are now much better able to identify, record and support our staff and they are now more willing to come forward and talk to us about any mental health issues.”