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Chief gets tough on sick note officers

PUBLISHED: 09:45 13 August 2008 | UPDATED: 11:34 03 July 2010

NORFOLK'S police chief has launched a tough new approach to cutting staff absences - including overlooking sick-note officers for promotion - as he pledges to save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds.

NORFOLK'S police chief has launched a tough new approach to cutting staff absences - including overlooking sick-note officers for promotion - as he pledges to save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The force has higher sickness rates than neighbouring forces and is falling behind on government targets with the average officer missing the equivalent of more than seven shifts each year, costing £3.1m in overtime and other fees.

Now chief constable Ian McPherson has compiled a report claiming “major savings” could be made as reducing sick days by 10pc could slash £310,000 from the wage bill.

The Police Federation, which represents the rank and file, supports the attempt to improve absence rates but said the policy should not be draconian and must be combined with help for those who have genuine problems.

In his report, Mr McPherson says the plan, parts of which have been in place for three months, is showing signs of progress both for officers and civilians. But he adds: “There is more to be achieved if we are to meet both annual targets. These targets will have to be achieved during an unprecedented period of change within the constabulary.”

Measures include:

Placing restrictions on all officers and civilian workers who have been absent on four or more separate occasions in the past year - including limiting access to promotions and preventing them having a second job on rest days.

Bosses calling staff or visiting them at their home within 24 hours of them calling in sick, except when such contact would be inappropriate.

Speaking to everybody who has been absent on five separate occasions. Three have now been put on unsatisfactory performance plans.

A system to identify problem cases and sickness “hot spots”.

The police authority believes it is important to adopt a “firm but supportive” stance. The more extreme measures will only apply in cases were people have a long-term pattern of missing work.

David Benfield, secretary of Nor-folk Police Federation, said it should not be a “one size fits all” policy and there should be flexibility for those who do not persistently miss work.

He added: “We fully support a policy which will reduce officer sickness and we have to be realistic and say there are some cases where a tough approach is necessary.

“Policing can be a difficult job with a lot of stresses attached and we need to acknowledge that. There are many officers who have years of good service who suddenly go through a bad patch and we wouldn't want to see people like that penalised.

“At the moment, the force is talking about taking action based on their record over 12 months. We would prefer to see them look at a wider period, such as three years so it is possible to establish if there is a pattern of sickness rather than a short-term problem.

“If this is combined with support for officers - so they are given encouragement, not punishment - we would be able to support the policy.”

The measures will also affect civilian workers, including back-room staff and police community support officers. Their union Unison has questioned the need for such a tough approach and said the situa-tion had improved in recent years.

The plan will be discussed by the police authority tomorrow.

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