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MERSEYSIDE Police force is continuing to lose over 50,000 days a year through illness, according to the latest government figures. The force's sickness tally among officers fell marginally from 54,011 in 1997 to 53,502 in the 12 months to last April.

During the same period, its average day-today strength dipped from 4,322 to 4,243 officers, of whom 141 were on long-term leave.

The figures show that Chief Constable Norman Bettison, who has demanded extra government cash to put more bobbies on the beat, has failed to make a dent in one of the major factors in manpower shortages.

The minor drop in absentee rates comes in the wake of Mr Bettison's pledge to come down hard on any officer who is off sick unnecessarily. Knowsley North and Sefton East MP George Howarth said: ``These figures are disturbing.''

But Merseyside police bosses said the sickness situation in the region is good when compared with forces around the country.

Chief Inspector Peter Stanton, in charge of personnel and development, claimed that since 1997 the average days lost through illness by front line officers has been reduced from 18.6 days to 12.6 per year.

He said: ``Merseyside police has taken significant steps to address issues of health in the workplace and actively seeks to promote a healthy workforce.'' Law and order minister John Denham, who released the figures, said that it is not possible under the present system to detect how much sick leave was due to the stress of the job.

Mr Denham added that from April Merseyside and other English forces will be helped by a new database to target which types of sickness results in the highest absence rates, allowing police managers to do something about it. In Lancashire sickness days lost rose over the five-year period from 37,419 to 38,785, while in Cheshire the total dropped slightly from 28,416 to 28,395.
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 18, 2003
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