Headlines: January 8th, 1998

Wasting police time is an offence, but much more time is lost through sickness or alleged sickness. Time lost annually through sickness is running at 1.5 million days. This is equivalent to 6,600 officers or the whole of the four forces covering Wales, absent each day. The estimated cost is £210m per year. These facts and proposals for addressing the problem are set out in ‘Lost Time’ published by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.The Inspectorate found wide variations in absence rates and a lack of information which led to a widespread failure to manage the situation. The Report argues that good management can have a dramatic effect on reducing levels of sickness. It describes the need for a well publicised, clear and comprehensive strategy , accurate and timely information, monitoring of progress, return to work interviews and health checks, good training and, most importantly, top management support.

Forces are urged to calculate the cost of their sickness absence, and so keep the issue on the management agenda. In order to provide comparative information, data is to be categorised with the WHO classification as adapted by the Civil Service Health Service. Currently managing sickness absence does not feature adequately in training and a module is proposed for inclusion in courses for newly promoted supervisors.

Welcoming the report Home Secretary Jack Straw emphasised the need for urgent action: “This report highlights large and unacceptable variations in the way sickness is managed in the police service. Real progress will come only from giving first line managers the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to tackle sickness effectively and firmly – something which is clearly not yet happening to a sufficient extent in most forces.”