A government crackdown on ill-health retirements means there are more than 9,000 police officers “in limbo” and unable to be deployed to the front line in a major incident, Personnel Today has learned.
The number of officers placed on restricted or recuperative duties has reached more than 9,800 – 7% of the total workforce.
The figures emerged after Personnel Today sent Freedom of Information requests to all 43 police forces. Of the 13 that were able to provide data, 4,650 officers were on restricted or recuperative duties in 2008-09, up from 4,082 in 2006-07. Extrapolating the data across all forces would mean 9,815 officers are now on such duties.
Officers are placed on limited duties, in most cases for at least six months, after they return from sick leave. Many carry out paperwork and begin their return-to-work on two hours a day. They try to build up their hours until they return to full service.
The officers, who tend to be at constable level with a few years experience, receive their full salary despite performing a limited role. These officers are thought to receive an average of £30,000 – amounting to an estimated £294m wage bill.
The Metropolitan Police has the largest number of officers on restricted and recuperative duties at 1,957 – 6% of its total workforce.
The Police Federation, which represents all front-line officers, claimed a Home Office crackdown on the number of ill-health retirements in recent years had caused the number of officers on restricted duties to rise. Police budgets have come under increasing pressure, and medical retirements are viewed as highly expensive.
Chairman Paul McKeever told Personnel Today: “Officers end up in a state of limbo, unable to perform the duties of a police officer and yet they’re unable to retire with some dignity on ill health.”
He said forces were not investing enough resources in recuperation or rehabilitation to minimise the number of officers unable to be deployed to major incidents.
“Forces have to do more to try to rehabilitate and assist the recuperation of officers. It clearly has an affect on forces’ ability to provide resilience, and [force managers] are increasingly finding it more difficult to manage.”
Northamptonshire Police has 10% of its 1,294 officers carrying out limited roles. In contrast, Cheshire, which employs 2,189 officers, has just 1% on restricted duties.
Derek Talbot, assistant chief constable and people lead at Northamptonshire Police, said: “I’d sooner have someone back at work doing 80% of useful jobs than 100% at home doing nothing. We wouldn’t send these officers out to a rowdy football match, but you could turn them out for some duties, such as interviewing victims of crime.”
He added that 10 years ago, his force would have retired about 60 officers a year on the grounds of ill health. That figure now stands at two or three. “If officers [on limited duties] were unlikely to get better, I would recommend medical retirement, but in reality this is very hard to achieve.”
Bob Crawley, head of health and wellbeing at the Met, said: “Officers on restricted duties may have gone up for ill-health retirement and failed. It’s a good argument to allow them to retire, but what we’re saying is that those officers have a lot of skills and experience. You’d be wasting those resources and then paying to recruit again.”
The Home Office disputed the number of officers on limited duties. A spokesman said the decision between ill-health retirement or restricted duties was for individual forces.
He added: “Recuperative duties have contributed to reducing sickness absence rates from 12 days in 1996-97 to eight days in 2008-09. Restricted duties allow the retention of officers’ skills and experience rather than lose these through costly ill-health retirement.”
At a glance: How the forces compare
Number on restricted or
% of workforce