Belfast Telegraph

423 police off sick every day: Probe is launched into absence levels which cost us £25m a year

By Chris Kilpatrick

Police chiefs are investigating absence levels within the force after it emerged the high sickness rates are costing the PSNI £25m each year.

Figures released by police show an average of 423 officers are off sick every day.

Almost a third of officers (32%) took sick leave between April and October, compared to 28% of PSNI civilian staff.

In that period 873 officers were off work for more than 28 days compared to 236 civilian staff.

It was also revealed that between April and October this year, 766 police officers were subject to an 'unsatisfactory performance' process due to absence.

During the same period 220 PSNI civilian staff were subject to the process.

As of the end of November, 107 civilian staff were on sick leave - but there were more than four times as many officers off work (481).

A number of factors are believed to have contributed to the rise in sickness levels, including the ongoing dissident threat and recent disorder on the streets. The details were revealed to Policing Board member, DUP MLA Brenda Hale, after she tabled a question to Chief Constable George Hamilton. Last September he warned that police sickness levels would rise by more than a third by April.

Yesterday Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay said: "The vast majority of the sickness that occurs is single absence, it's not recurring absence."

He said that over the years, patterns of sickness in the police had moved from more frequent short-term absences to situations where staff are off 28 days or longer - what the PSNI classes as long-term absence.

"That's a different management programme - in terms of the medical information we get from general practitioners, in terms of the reasons they are off, and how we manage them back to work accordingly.

"This is something we look at continually in terms of the management of our sickness levels."

Mr Finlay said warnings had been issued to 75 people over absence in the past year.

Sick leave across the whole of the Northern Ireland Civil Service between 2010 and 2011 cost a total of around £30m, just £5m more than the annual cost to the PSNI.

Ms Hale said the figures were a concern.

She added: "The headline figure that sickness absence is costing the PSNI £25.1m is very concerning.

"At a time when the Chief Constable is highlighting the budgetary pressures that he faces, it is vital that he tackles the problem of sickness absence within the PSNI.

"The need for action has been recognised by the PSNI, with monthly reports coming to the resources committee of the Policing Board. I will continue to monitor the issue to see what progress is made in the coming months."

Last month the PSNI agreed to provide the Policing Board with a monthly absence report.

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