Health checks aim to cut leave

The West Midlands Probation Service is introducing staff health checks to
help meet Home Office absenteeism targets.

According to the West Midlands service’s figures its staff were absent for
an average of 13.4 days last year and its probation officers each took nearly
21 days’ sick leave.

The Home Office has issued a target of nine days per employee by 2004 to
help cut the estimated £1m a year cost of absenteeism to the Probation Service.

Susanna Newing, head of personnel at West Midlands Probation Service, is
optimistic that the new health checks, started last month, will help meet the
target. She said, "The aim of the voluntary checks are to pick up any
possible problems early on."

The voluntary assessments will be offered to the service’s 12,000 staff and
will include answering a questionnaire, giving a urine sample, blood and pulse
tests, vision screening and a lifestyle discussion.

Participants will be given verbal feedback as well as a report, which will
be sent to their home address to ensure confidentiality.

Return-to-work interviews have also been introduced, along with absence
warning stages.

Newing explained, "An empl-oyee can get a warning after three absences.
The policy working at its most extreme could lead to an employee being
dismissed after nine warnings."

The West Midlands Probation Service is also introducing greater employee
support for long-term absentees and is looking to introduce stress management
seminars before the end of the financial year.

Newing stressed that the West Midlands Probation Service’s record on
sickness absence is typical of the sector "Our record is not acceptable
but we are not alone. It is a public-sector problem caused by the nature of the
work," she said.

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