A panel of scientific and medical experts has been established by the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) to provide specialist advice on risks and safeguards for police staff during the coronavirus pandemic.

The newly formed SPF-COVID-19 Panel is to continually review and assess medical and epidemiological issues in respect of COVID-19 – and identify changes to working practices which should be considered by the Police Service of Scotland (PSoS).

The panel’s professional expert members are Professor Sir Harry Burns, Professor George Crooks OBE and Professor Hugh Pennington CBE.

The Police Federation members are Calum Steele and David Kennedy and the legal member is Professor Peter Watson of PBW Law.

The Scottish Police Federation represents all police officers in the ranks of constable, sergeant, inspector and chief inspector, police cadets and special constables – over 18,500 people, 98% of all police officers in Scotland.

The panel, which met by video conference for the first time on Monday (April 6), will inform how the SPF represents its members in discussions on COVID-19 with Police Scotland leadership.

The panel’s immediate considerations are:-

  1. The suitability of generic public health guidance for the dynamic activity of policing
  2. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in various operational settings
  3. Mitigation of risks for police officers and the public
  4. The cleaning and decontamination of work place and equipment

During the conference the panel discussed wide ranging threats to police officers – including the nature of police work which is often ‘up close’ where social distancing guidelines cannot be followed.

The importance of cleaning workplaces and vehicles is also being examined as well as the threat to officers’ families should infection be carried back to the family home.

The panel will also consider police working in custody suites in close quarters as well as examples of officers having to perform first aid – including CPR – without any protection from COVID-19.

The SPF-COVID-19 Panel will also examine the mechanisms by which it can be determined if a) any police officer has contracted the virus and b) how many have recovered from it. At present there is no data available on this crucial matter.

The SPF stresses that they are working in coordination with others such as Police Scotland, Scottish Police Authority, the Inspectorate as well as the government. If the SPF are to raise matters in the public domain then they will let these bodies know in advance of this.

Calum Steele, the Federation’s General Secretary said: “The generic health protection advice promoted by the Government simply does not take account of the realities of police work. We need sector specific advice which recognises and reflects the often unpredictable and up close and personal nature of policing, and this panel will help us secure that.

“The panel comprises some of the finest medical and scientific minds in Scotland and as it delivers specific advice to us, we will liaise directly with Police Scotland. We cannot continue with a mindset that says if a police officer doesn’t have symptoms then he or she doesn’t have the virus. This is wrong.

“An increasing amount of time is being spent with those in vulnerable categories. Police officers face a risk on a daily basis and we need to rethink about how we police. Every police officer is committed to upholding the law and helping the vulnerable but we cannot do that if our own officers are allowed to succumb to the deadly virus.”



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Note to Editors:

Professor George Crooks

  • Professor George Crooks is currently the Chief Executive of the Digital Health and Care Institute, Scotland’s national innovation centre for digital health and care.
  • The Digital Health & Care Institute look into innovations that focus on prevention, early detection, post event care and independent assisted living.
  • They have issued a response to COVID-19 and are already collaborating with a number of stakeholders in response to COVID 19.
  • He leads an organisation that is tasked with delivering innovation in digital health and care that will help Scotland’s people to live longer, healthier lives and create new jobs for the economy.
  • He was previously the Medical Director for NHS 24 and Director of the Scottish Centre for Telehealth & Telecare.
  • George was a General Medical Practitioner for 23 years in Aberdeen latterly combining that role as Director of Primary Care for Grampian.
  • He is currently a Board member and past president of the European Health Telematics Association and is on the Board of the European Foundation for Critical Care.
  • He is an assessor for the European Commission on programmes involving digital health and care provision and is a member of the WHO roster of experts for digital health.
  • He leads the Integrated Care Action Group on behalf of the European Commission within the European Partnership for Active and Healthy Ageing.
  • He is also an adjunct Professor of Telehealth at the University of Southern Denmark.
  • He was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours List 2011 for services to healthcare.

Professor Hugh Pennington

  • Professor Pennington is emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen.
  • Professor Pennington has been involved in research into vaccinia, smallpox and other viruses.
  • He was appointed Chair of Bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen in 1979, where he remained until his retirement in 2003.
  • His research focused on improved bacteria typing, or “fingerprinting”, methods, and led to new methods for the investigation of virulence and antibiotic resistance in a number of important pathogens.
  • In late November 1996, an Ecoli outbreak in the town of Wishaw, central Scotland prompted the Scottish Office to establish an expert group, chaired by Professor Pennington. The Pennington Group convened between December 1996 and March 1997.
  • Another case of E. coli infection occurred in Tayside in January 1997 and the group was tasked with investigating the additional outbreak.
  • Professor Pennington has worked for the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments as an expert on microbiology and food safety and has also appeared in British media as an expert.
  • Professor Pennington was the Chairman of the Public Inquiry into the 2005 Outbreak of E. coli O157 in South Wales.
  • He was appointed CBE in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to microbiology and food hygiene.
  • Professor Pennington has been very involved in the media since the outbreak of COVID-19
  • He has provided interviews to Press and Journal, The Guardian, The Herald and The Daily Mail.

Professor Sir Harry Burns

  • Dr Burns is the Professor of Global Public Health at University of Strathclyde.
  • He has previously been the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland from September 2005 to April 2014.
  • He is a member of the Economic Advisers in Scotland.
  • In 1990, following completion of an MSc Public Health, he was appointed Medical Director of the Royal Infirmary.
  • He worked as deputy director of planning and contracts at Greater Glasgow in 1992.
  • In 1994, he became Director of Public Health for Greater Glasgow Health Board, a position he occupied until 2005.
  • In 1999 he was awarded a visiting professorship in public health medicine at the University of Glasgow, and he also became a senior research fellow in the School of Business and Management at the university.
  • Dr Burns was knighted in the 2011 Birthday Honours in recognition of outstanding achievement and service to society.
  • He has chaired a group that conducted an independent review of targets in Scotland’s NHS.