Force winning battle on sick days

By Ted JeoryPOLICE officers in Essex are among the healthiest and least-stressed in the country, according to new figures that revealed a sharp fall in sick days.

By Ted Jeory

POLICE officers in Essex are among the healthiest and least-stressed in the country, according to new figures that revealed a sharp fall in sick days.

The figures were revealed in a report to Essex Police Authority, which also said a crackdown on staff absence was saving the force the equivalent of £1.65million a year.

On average the county's police officers took just over eight sick days during 2003/4 - the fifth lowest in England and Wales.

Suffolk police's officers were the country's second lowest at just under eight, while Humberside Police was top of the league at just over six days lost per officer per year.

However, Gwent's officers were the unhealthiest, taking just under 14 days per year in sick leave, compared with a Home Office target of seven.

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Latest figures for this financial year showed Essex Police was averaging 6.9 sick days per officer, with the Colchester division the highest at 12.3, the Tendring division at 8.5 days, the Braintree division at 7.6 days and the Chelmsford division at 8.1 days.

The report also said the force's civilian staff were taking an average of 8.5 sick days a year, better than the Home Office target of nine days.

It added the healthiest and least-stressed staff were those who had to deal with the press, with the force's media and public relations team currently taking an average of 2.5 sick days annually.

Essex Police's senior officers have sanctioned a number of initiatives to reduce sickness rates, including improved management and tracking of leave as well as better understanding of absence policy.

The force also has a medical budget of £478,000, which is spent fast-tracking treatment for its officers and staff so they did not have to spend time on NHS waiting lists.

As examples, the report cited 154 days and £20,636 salary saved by treating a police constable who was off work after sustaining head injuries while on duty.

The force also arranged a podiatrist MRI scan for another constable who hurt his Achilles tendon off-duty - and because NHS waiting times were 70 days, this action saved the taxpayer £7,504 after paying for private treatment.

Robert Chambers, chairman of the Essex Police Authority, said the improvements were testament to good management.

“Our sickness rates are now better than a lot of private enterprises. It shows that we have an excellent working environment, but more importantly it means that more officers are spending time on frontline services, which is good for the public,” he added.

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