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SHIELD leading the way on health and wellbeing

A healthy and productive workforce is essential in any workplace, even more so in a policing environment, where many members are exposed to the physical and mental rigours that society, and life, can manifest.

Enter SHIELD – the AFP’s new health and wellbeing model - which formally launched in its Western Command on 1 July, 2021.

The establishment of the ‘WA Health Hub’ is a landmark step in the journey to set up SHIELD Health Hubs and services in every AFP command across the country, including the ACT, in the coming years.

Since commencing work in mid-May, the WA team – led by SHIELD Medical Officer Dr Gill Cowen and Hub Leader Shareenah Virahsawmy – has visited staff and sites throughout Western Command, including regional facilities in Exmouth and Geraldton. The team has also spent valuable time establishing the SHIELD Health Hub inside the Perth Annex.

Dr Cowen brings extensive experience to SHIELD, having provided medical advice to the Department of Veterans Affairs and worked in sports medicine, and said the SHIELD concept and services have been well received so far.

“SHIELD staff have been made very welcome in WA, and it has been fantastic to meet people from Exmouth and Geraldton, as well as the Airport and West Perth as we learn about the important work that people are performing across Western Command,” Dr Cowan said.

“This will assist in our understanding of the unique health care requirements of the work force, especially in this geographically large area.

“The feedback from the members has been positive with appointments already underway – prior to the official start of services – while members have been presenting to the annex regularly to see the facilities and what SHIELD can offer.”


Like the name suggests, SHIELD is about protecting the health and wellbeing of AFP members. It is about getting a step ahead – anticipating people’s care and support needs and managing the risks the AFP workforce faces, whether they are sworn or unsworn members.

SHIELD recognises that health plays an integral part in policing and the work the AFP undertakes, addressing a number of services that have not previously been delivered to members. SHIELD will provide AFP members with the most comprehensive health and wellbeing support in the organisation’s history.

“SHIELD aims to assist members to optimise their health and wellbeing to ensure both physical and psychological wellness as well as operational readiness,” Dr Cowan said.

WA-based staff now have access to a dedicated team of clinicians who understand the unique nature of the AFP’s work, with members now able to arrange an in-person or online health consultation with a GP, Registered Nurse, Psychologist or Exercise Physiologist.

Plans are also afoot to add a Physiotherapist, Health and Fitness Advisor, and Social Worker to the WA team, which also currently includes Welfare Officers, a Rehabilitation Case Manager, and Work Health and Safety Advisor.

A key feature of SHIELD is that it is a deployable capability, allowing the service to respond dynamically to clients regardless of geographic limitations. SHIELD clinicians and health professionals won’t be tied to the Health Hub – they will be out in the work force, to see firsthand and understand the nature of members’ duties and the environment they work in.

Best of all, this care is confidential and personalised, tailored specifically to members’ needs, and their unique circumstances. The SHIELD clinicians and staff have an excellent understanding of the AFP’s work, and the unique challenges that come with working in policing.

Although only in its infancy, SHIELD is having immediate impact with members utilising SHIELD services, as this story from one of SHIELD’s first clients during Operation Ironside shows:

“I had developed a strange, ongoing numbness in my leg that, while not debilitating, was causing me discomfort and affecting my sleep. I put up with it for about two weeks, meaning to book an appointment with my own GP, but I kept putting this off due to the operational tempo and family commitments after work.

“Finally, against my better judgement, I decided to look up ‘Dr Google’. I immediately regretted it, as it told me I either had nerve damage, or a very serious underlying health condition. 

“I ran into our Welfare Officer the next day at work, and with my imminent demise on my mind, I tentatively asked if the SHIELD health hub was up and running.

“Within half an hour, I was in front of the SHIELD GP, and all my concerns were allayed. Follow up consults were arranged, while the doctor also referred me to the SHIELD Exercise Physiologist, who will assist me with a preventive course of action.

“I was incredibly impressed by the SHIELD service provided. There was little to no red tape, the staff were incredibly welcoming and professional, and a plan was put in place for ongoing treatment over the next few months. Best of all, this was completed with little to no impact on my work or family commitments. 

“A huge thanks to the WA SHIELD Team. I cannot speak highly enough of this service!”

Another of SHIELD’s early clients, AFP Commander John Tanti, also had a positive review of his initial SHIELD experience.

“The SHIELD Exercise Physiologist has developed a training program to compliment my return to safe and productive gym sessions follow recent shoulder and knee surgeries.

“I cannot endorse the SHIELD capability enough. It's a facility provided for your wellness - please take the opportunity with both hands. Better wellness will see our longevity and mobility run into a ripe old age!”

And this is just the beginning.

Work to establish SHIELD services for AFP Central Command based in Adelaide is progressing well. An Exercise Physiologist and Work Health and Safety Officer commenced in late August, joining an existing Psychologist, while work to recruit a Medical Officer, Registered Nurse, Social Worker, Rehabilitation Case Manager, and Physiotherapist is ongoing.

It is anticipated SHIELD services will be established in the ACT, supporting members from ACT Policing as well as ACT-based AFP members, by the end of 2021. Recruitment of the ACT Medical Officer is currently being finalised, while further recruitment for other key SHIELD personnel to support the ACT command, including SHIELD’s first Dietitian, is progressing.

Work to identify an appropriate SHIELD Hub facility in the ACT is also ongoing.

Excitement around the rollout and potential for SHIELD is palpable, the culmination of years of research which formed the platform for the proposal which secured Australian Government support for the SHIELD concept as part of the 2020 Federal Budget.

AFP Chief Medical Officer, Dr Katrina Sanders, played a key role in the establishment of SHIELD and said the benefits for members will be felt throughout the organisation.

“SHIELD is all about our members. We need to build it together to make it fit-for-purpose, and I’m confident the results will speak for themselves, in the short, medium, and long term,” Dr Sanders said. 

“The localised element of SHEILD is also critically important. Local SHIELD teams that understand the nature of AFP work and partner with our members - now that’s health prevention.”

In time, it is also anticipated that some SHIELD services will become available for former and retired AFP members, as well as members of the AFP Reserve, and even family members.

National Manager of the AFP’s People and Culture Command, Dr Chris Black, said making these services available to former and retired members would allow SHIELD’s holistic care and approach to echo beyond a member’s active career.

“Current AFP members are SHIELD’s immediate priority,” Dr Black said. “However, longer term, some SHIELD services are intended to also be available to family and retired members. It is anticipated these will focus on education and prevention – for example, nutrition and exercise programs.

“AFP family members can still access the Employee Assistance Program, which has been expanded to include former and retired members and their families for five years post retirement - previously, it was only six months post retirement.”

SHIELD - Western Command snapshot

  • Members attended 343 appointments in July 2021
  • Members attended 560 appointments in August 2021
  • Attendance increased 65% between July and August
  • 94% attendance of available SHIELD services in the first month of operation
  • Requests for psychology, exercise physiology, and welfare services has been particularly strong.

Overview of SHIELD

SHIELD embeds health and wellbeing services into the day-to-day operations of AFP Members, former and retired Members, Reservists and their families by focusing on regional service provision and a risk-based approach. SHIELD will propel the AFP to a more preventative, forward leaning, face-to-face service delivery model in support of enhancing operational performance.

SHIELD overview diagramCentre of excellence

  • Produces research and insights to guide the health and wellbeing services delivered through the SHIELD Commands

Transition support

  • Recruitment and onboarding
  • Pre- and post-retirement


  • Assessment, diagnosis and care planning for physical and psychological injuries and illnesses.
  • Case management support
  • Care coordination
  • Employee Assistance Program
  • Referral to external service providers for management and rehabilitation of physical and psychological injuries and illnesses
  • Return-to-work support following injury or illness


  • Population-based health and wellbeing
  • Physical injury prevention
  • Mental health literacy
  • Trauma specific mental health literacy
  • Shift worker


  • Health assessments (physical and psychological)
  • Role specific health assessments
  • Work, health and safety (WH&S)
  • Physical exercise programs
  • Overseas deployment support
  • Self-monitoring of health and wellbeing (wearable technology)

Early intervention

  • Peer support
  • Informal advice and guidance
  • Critical incident debriefing
  • Early intervention program
  • Allied health support for chronic disease intervention (dietician, occupational therapist, occupational hygienist)

Referral to External Service Providers

  • Community care
  • General Practicioner (Oversight of health care, non-occupational care)

External Service Provider

  • Specialist care for occupational injury and illness
    • Pathology
    • Imaging
    • 'Extras' - dental, chiro, optical, remedial massage
    • Specialists