Exclusive: Taxpayer forks out £7.5m for suspended public sector workers

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Sexual assault, maltreatment of patients and drug and alcohol abuse are among allegations faced by public sector workers suspended on full pay in Yorkshire.

More than £7.5m of taxpayers’ cash has been paid to council, police and health service employees accused of misconduct over the past three years, the Yorkshire Post can reveal.

Some have been paid sums of up to £100,000 while investigations have dragged on for as long as three years, figures released in response to a Freedom of Information request show.

Unions and campaigners have branded it a “staggering” waste of public money, while an employment lawyer has warned “knee-jerk” suspensions could pave the way for tribunal claims.

Nearly £3m of the total revealed to have been spent across Yorkshire was paid to at least 786 council employees, the data shows.

And the true sum is likely to be far higher as several authorities, including Sheffield, Rotherham, Calderdale, York and East Riding, refused to supply the figures.

Others supplied only the sums paid for completed suspensions. At least 73 cases are still ongoing.

Health trusts spent more than £4m on the salaries of more than 600 suspended staff while police forces paid out an estimated £700,000 to at least 72 officers and civilian workers.

Again, the figures offer only a glimpse at the true picture, as a handful of NHS organisations failed to supply all the information, as did West and North Yorkshire Police.

The council total includes close to £70,000 paid to a North Yorkshire County Council worker suspended for more than a year over child protection concerns.

Another £70,000 was paid to a Doncaster Council operations manager suspended for nearly two years for “unacceptable working practices”.

And a Barnsley Council employee is still receiving a full salary more than three years after being suspended in May 2010, to date receiving more than £42,000.

A Hull City Council worker meanwhile received around £10,000 while suspended for 19 weeks after being found to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs at work last year.

The biggest sum paid to a health worker was £97,800 to a consultant suspended by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust since last February. The case is ongoing. Another consultant, who has since resigned, was paid £83,829 while suspended between July 2009 and July 2010.

The trust, which declined to disclose details of the misconduct allegations against the pair, has paid £1.7m to staff suspended on full pay in the past three years.

A senior physiotherapist at the South and West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Trust was paid close to £50,000 while suspended for nearly two years over alleged maltreatment of a patient. The employee returned to work in April.

A South Yorkshire Police officer was suspended for nearly three years following allegations of use of force. The officer could have received more than £100,000 depending on his or her salary increment before returning to work last May when no further action was taken.

Another officer who committed a sexual assault could have received more than £24,000 while suspended between June 2012 and February 2013.

A force spokeswoman said the suspension of the officer accused of using force took so long due to a criminal trial, after which the officer was convicted, then went on to appeal and win.

The officer accused of sexual assault was arrested and later pleaded guilty, and resigned before being jailed for nine months.

The spokeswoman said the force didn’t have a policy to limit the length of suspensions, which were decided on a case-by-case basis and reviewed at least every 28 days.

“Suspension is always the last resort if nothing else can be accommodated for the officer on restricted duties,” she added.

Mark Gwilliam, director of human resources at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The number of staff suspended in the last three years equates to less than 1.5 per cent of our total staff. However, we are never complacent and do take the appropriate disciplinary action when necessary.”