Sickness absences at Lothian and Borders Police were today said to be of “continuing concern” after figures revealed 14 per cent of officers were off ill for ten days or more in a row last year.
Statistics released under the Freedom of Information Act show that, in 2012, 425 out of the force’s 3000 officers were off sick for ten or more days in one period of sickness. Insiders suggested that the problem was caused by a lack of desk jobs for officers recovering from illness.
A police insider said: “In the old days, if a police officer was not quite ready for active duty there were desk jobs you could give them. Now these positions have been civilianised, so officers have to be 100 per cent fit – you can still be a teacher with a sore leg, but not an active police officer.
“There are people who will be off with stress, but most of the officers will have physical injuries.
“Working routine shifts out on the streets can be pretty hard going and you do tend to pick up injuries.”
Scottish Conservative Chief Whip John Lamont described the statistics as “concerning”.
He said: “Our police officers do a great job in keeping our streets safe, often in the face of danger and provocation.
“However, it’s concerning that so many officers are going off sick for so such a long period of time.
“While there will be very good reasons for an officer requiring time off, the system has to be robust enough to ensure it is not being abused.”
Overall, sickness absence across the force has fallen over the past few years.
But in November, figures showed overall sickness absence across Lothian and Borders had increased – with 6581 sick days recorded among the force’s 2897 officers between April and September.
Jackie Muller, secretary of the Lothian and Borders Police Federation, said the force made every effort to ensure officers were supported in returning to work.
She said: “The work undertaken by the force to recruit and support disabled officers in line with equality legislation must be commended but this can also lead to more sickness absence.
“Lothian and Borders Police’s occupational health department works hard supporting officers who are unwell and to support and assist a return to work as soon as is appropriate. I believe the fact that overall sickness absence is down is testimony to this fact.”
A force spokeswoman said it was important to recognise that police work can be both stressful and demanding.
She said: “In order to try to reduce staff absences, there are procedures in place such as critical incident stress management, and risk assessed stress management.
“Counselling services are on hand, as well as physiotherapy, and light-duties return to work schemes.
“The occupational health department has been restructured to give support through occupational nursing, and around £1 million a year is invested in this.
“There is also a confidential helpline service, which offers round-the-clock support and advice on a range of issues which could impact on attendance.”