Policing: Not so tough on the causes of illness

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The Independent Online
Chief constables must take urgent action to reduce sickness absence in the police, which is the equivalent of 6,600 officers off every day in England and Wales, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, said yesterday. The number of officers retiring on medical grounds - some of whom leave to avoid disciplinary action and to gain a larger pension, must also be cut, although the numbers are already declining.

As part of a package of measures to help dissuade frustrated officers from faking illness, police who want to leave should be offered careers advice and job placements, according to a report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. The HMIC study, Lost Time, found that in the year to April 1997, more than 1.5 million working days were lost because of sick leave, at a cost of pounds 210m a year.

The average number of sick days taken off each year by police officers and civilian staff is 12.5, compared to 8.4 days in a CBI survey, and 10.7 days for civil servants.

Mr Straw also said there could be no justification for some forces, such as Merseyside, attributing 77 per cent of their retirements to ill health, while the rate at other forces, such as Kent, was only 16 per cent.

"The report argues decisively that good management can have a dramatic effect on reducing these levels of sickness and medical retirement," he said.