At least 55 health professionals were arrested in Italy on Friday on suspicion of falsifying their work hours and absenteeism, police said.

According to a police statement, the suspects — a neurologist, a gynecologist, nine radiologists, 18 nurses, six administrative workers, nine maintenance technicians and 11 health and social workers — worked at Loreto Mare hospital in Naples and were to remain under house arrest on order of the public prosecutor’s office, who accused them of defrauding the state and altering public documents, Efe news reported.

“Hours and hours of movies and interceptions and over 500 observation and tracking services have led to the establishment of thousands of episodes of absenteeism,” said the statement, adding that at least 94 people were believed to be involved.

One doctor was found to spend his time playing tennis, shopping for jewellery and “attending to duties of a private nature”, according to police.

One was even found to have a second job as a chef at a nearby hotel.

The investigation began some two years ago and involved the placing of hidden cameras at the hospital to monitor the way staff worked.

This allowed them to see that many workers would sign in and then leave, and would also often register their absent colleagues as present.

Two were found to sign in at least 20 of their colleagues, said the statement.

The practice has become increasingly common in Italy, leading the government to approve a decree that allows civil servants to be suspended from work and pay for 48 hours if they cover up their absences, and if found guilty they can be immediately fired.

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