HC Deb 31 January 2003 vol 398 c1091W
Dr. Murrison

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of the(a) prevalence and (b) causes of occupational stress (i) among prison officers and (ii) in the police. [93666]

Hilary Benn

The Prison Service carried out an audit into the causes and extent of stress among prison officers and other staff in 2001–02. The audits were conducted at a number of representative prisons and at headquarters. The results suggest that stress is common among prison staff and is due to a wide range of causes. As a result of this work, the Prison Service is developing a policy for preventing stress together with a range of initiatives aimed at supporting those who may be suffering from stress.

Figures for police sickness absence showed an average loss of 11.5 working days per officer in 2001–02 and an average of 12 working days per support staff member. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary has not previously recorded exact figures on what proportion of that absence relates to stress, although stress and musculo-skeletal disorders are unofficially recognised as the two main contributors.

From April 2003, all forces will have begun measuring sickness absence according to new data collection arrangements. This was released in June last year by the Police Numbers Task Force and will ensure that sickness absence is broken down into categories, including stress-related illness. The new data collection arrangements will enable forces to target the types of sickness absence that have the most effect on them.

There has been much discussion by occupational health professionals both inside and outside the Police Service regarding the causes of stress. As yet there is no one prevailing view on the subject. Some forces have already conducted internal stress audits/and begun to target the causes of stress at local level.