Working to improve sickness levels in Essex Police
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, for example, in PCSO sickness levels. I am aware that Chief Constable Kavanagh has reviewed occupational health and physiotherapy and other counselling services aimed at assisting officers back into the workplace.
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.
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.
The recent murders in Colchester have placed a huge strain on the force. Police officers, PCSOs and police staff have responded with great professionalism, regularly working long shifts, back to back, day after day. They have my respect and thanks, and I’m sure the respect and thanks of everyone in our communities.
It is the case though, in these times of austerity, that all public services are being asked to operate within smaller budgets. A recent report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found that Essex Police has the lowest non-pay budget per head of the population of any police force in the country. With around 84 per cent of the total policing budget spent on salaries, it is inevitably the case that there will be fewer officers, PCSOs and staff over the coming years.
I am encouraged by the confidence shown by the Chief Constable in the ability of Essex Police to meet the challenges of finding 3 percent annual savings. I will continue to challenge and support the Chief Constable to ensure that everyone working for Essex Police has the best possible support available, and that officers are equipped with the best technology to ensure they can continue to work effectively and efficiently.
Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex
The following measures have been put in place by Essex Police:
a. The Chief Constable is re-instating central resources to support line managers in their role of managing absence locally
b. Essex Police is planning several health promotion initiatives and we are investing more funds in areas such as physiotherapy and other counselling services aimed at assisting officers back into the workplace.
c. Essex Police has strengthened policy greatly and made far better use of those officers able to be in the work place but perhaps not fully fit whilst recuperating from injury/illness
d. Essex Police has an increased number of officers who are awaiting ill-health retirement which is predicated on medical evidence that they are no longer able to perform the role of a police officer. Whilst that process is being facilitated, they are effectively recorded as long term absent.
e. A performance Improvement Unit (PIU) has been created to tackle under-performance which includes absence and the PIU already has 19 cases referred
f. Line managers have been empowered to tackle absence locally and a new SAP IT system enables the provision of timely and effective management information to support them in making appropriate interventions to address absence
g. A greater emphasis is now placed on maintaining contact and carrying out return to work interviews of those individuals recording themselves as absent
h. Development plans are in place for those who frequently absent themselves from the workplace
i. Local and central absence management groups are in place where absence cases are scrutinised. These meetings are chaired by senior managers or LPA commanders
j. Essex Police has created a specific Joint Head of Health Services role that will have a key focus on reducing absence. The current incumbent has a broad range of responsibilities but going forward the new role will be freed up to focus much more on absence and not distracted onto other assignments
k. The force’s re-organisation does require that a far higher quota of officers are fully fit for front operational policing roles whereas in the past there were a number of posts that existed where the fitness threshold was lower. A number of those roles are now performed by police staff or not all as the functions and processes around them have been re-organised.