At least £46 million of taxpayers' money has been spent on public sector staff suspended on full pay over the past three years, according to a new investigation.
More than 5,000 staff were suspended on full pay at NHS trusts, police forces and county councils in England and Wales over the period, ITV's Tonight programme found.
And the true number may be much higher, as fewer than half of the organisations in question gave full responses to freedom of information requests from the show's researchers.
In some cases, individuals were suspended for more than a year, and in one case for almost three years. Suspensions lasting over a year included 19 NHS workers at a cost of more than £1 million to the taxpayer and 14 police officers, between them also running up a bill of around £1 million.
The most expensive single case reported was a police inspector who received £120,000 in pay during a suspension lasting more than two years.
Reasons given for suspensions included allegations of sex assaults, drug cultivation, sleeping on duty, being drunk at work, inappropriate relationships and tormenting patients. Workplace dispute experts told the programme that suspension on full pay is often used to avoid the danger of a Employment Tribunal case resulting in costly compensation.
Complete responses were received from 113 out of 239 NHS England health trusts, 29 out of 47 police forces in England and Wales and 25 out of 56 county and county borough councils in England and Wales.
They reported suspensions on full pay of:
:: 3,477 health staff between 2013 and 2016, at a cost of £28,497,343.42.
:: 507 police staff in that time, paying out £10,888,305.14.
:: 1,172 council staff over the same period, with payments totalling £7,282,015.11.
Combined, these add up to 5,156 public sector employees receiving pay totalling £46,667,663.67 while suspended from work.
Dia Chakravarty, from the Taxpayers' Alliance pressure group, told Tonight: "This is a phenomenal waste of taxpayers' money. Just to put it in context - for every £100,000 of taxpayers' money that is spent in the public sector, the average worker has to work about 7,500 hours to earn.
"The sheer scale is staggering. I'm sure we can all think of a better way of spending that sort of money."
:: Suspended: Britain's Pay Scandal? Tonight can be seen on ITV at 7.30pm on Thursday September 22.