CONCERNS over “unacceptable” sickness levels at the police service centre which took the ill-fated call about the M9 crash tragedy have been raised by opposition leaders.
Staff were also working thousands of hours in overtime in the months before the fatal accident which led to the deaths of two people, Scottish Police Authority figures show.
Nicola Sturgeon and Chief Constable Sir Stephen House have previously rejected a “systemic” problems with police call-handling and put the tragedy down to an individual human error.
John Yuill was found dead inside the blue Renault Clio three days after the crash was first reported to police on Sunday July 5. His girlfriend, Lamara Bell, was still alive but died in hospital days later from dehydration.
The call was taken by a senior officer, but the details were not then fed into the system. A major review has now been launched into police call handling by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS), but SPA figures show that Police Scotland’s Bilston Glen call centre, covering the crash area, had 15 staff – more than 10 per cent – absent from work on 11 June less than a month before the tragedy.
It also reveals that staff have worked more than 8,000 hours in overtime since the start of April in order to “mitigate” for staff shortages, with 52 vacancies across the east and west service centres.
Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: “This is a deeply distressing tragedy, all the more so because the warning signs that emerged months ago were completely ignored by the Scottish Government.
“A 10 per cent absence rate is completely unacceptable in a high-pressure environment where people’s lives depend on calls being handled quickly and efficiently.
“Service centre staff are already overburdened from excessive centralisation, but the sheer number of vacancies and lost adviser hours are only putting them under more strain.
“The buck stops with the Scottish Government on this and the public will no doubt wonder why it is constantly on the back foot with Police Scotland.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie also raised concerns.
“This is further evidence of the difficulties that staff operating within police control rooms are facing,” Mr Rennie said.
“We know that these are high-pressure, high-stress jobs. The fact that 10 per cent of staff were absent at Bilston Glen when this report was published last month demonstrates clearly the workload pressures that the remaining staff at these crucial facilities are facing.”
Police Scotland’s Assistant Chief Constable Val Thomson said predicted absence levels are always taken into account and planned around by managers.
She said: “Resource management is calculated to include resilience around absence and, where necessary, we are able to support staffing levels through other means to ensure Police Scotland service centres and control rooms are resourced appropriately.”