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Police and Crime Commissioner: Cost cutting “gone too far”

PCC Nick AlstonEssex Police is to fund better physiotherapy and counselling services after it emerged that sickness levels were through the roof at the force.

Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner, (pictured) admitted cost cutting had “gone too far” at the force and has announced a number of moves being taken at the force to better protect officers.

He listed health promotion initiatives, improved back to work programmes, better contact between  managers and those off sick and the establishment of “absence management groups”.

He was speaking after Labour’s challenger to be the next MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock, Mike Le Surf, called on Mr Alston to tackle sickness rates.

Sickness rates at the force have doubled in recent months, according to information obtained by Essex Police Federation.

In the year 2009/2010 the number of police duty days lost through sickness was 27,654. But last year (2013/14) this had risen to 41,251 days – an increase of 50%.

Mr Le Surf said: “This is a shocking figure and the public deserve answers. We should all be very concerned that the conditions with the biggest increases appear to be those where stress could be a factor. We know that police numbers are being cut and that this places a heavier burden on the remaining officers.”

Mr Alston replied: “Since becoming Police and Crime Commissioner, I have been scrutinising all aspects of Essex Police performance. I have identified sickness levels as a matter of concern.  I have closely monitored these on a monthly basis and am assured that improvements are being made

“It is essential that we have a proper understanding of the reasons for the increase in days lost to sickness, whilst recognising that many police officers are involved in physical work. Sadly, officers are sometimes injured in the course of duty, protecting our communities and keeping us all safe. Some have carried out extraordinary acts of courage and have found themselves assaulted and hurt in the execution of their duty, and I am assured that these officers receive all the support that the force is able to extend to them.  That support must include medical and welfare needs in their recovery.

Mr Alston added: “It is my judgement that over the past few years, cost-cutting measures went too far in the area of Occupational Health and access to physiotherapy services.  I know that the Chief Constable and his senior team are working to increase the support available to injured officers.

“I am also aware that the Essex Police Federation believes that stress experienced by officers is a factor in the increased levels of sickness.  It is important to consider this, and to explore whether there are ways of decreasing stress levels.”

Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh said: “The figures show that the number of days taken off by officers due to stress related illnesses has risen. This is a worry and I’m working with my senior management team and HR department to ensure that everyone who works for Essex Police is being fully supported.

“By its nature policing is a stressful job. That’s why it is important that all officers and police staff who work for Essex Police are given the welfare support they need.”

Date posted: August 28, 2014

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