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Teacher healthcare service cost Dept of Education €1m last year

The department said that the system has led to a 15 per cent reduction in teacher absenteeism over four years.

Image: alamosbasement via Creative Commons

THE CONTRACT awarded to an independent company for providing an occupational health service to teachers cost the Department of Education €955,300 for the 2010/2011 school year.

After 12 weeks of sick leave over a 12-month period, teachers are automatically referred to the department’s occupational healthcare service, Medmark. This service is covered fully by the department at no cost to teachers.

The Department of Education told TheJournal.ie that the level of sick leave among teachers has fallen 15 per cent between the 2007/8 school year and the 2010/11 year and it believes the supervisory service is behind the drop.

“This [reduction] is attributable to the presence of the occupational health service provider as well as recent Budget decisions to suspend, in most cases, substitution cover for the first day’s uncertified sick leave and to cap the maximum number of uncertified sick leave days in a school year to seven,” a department spokesperson said.

Medmark’s Dr Robert Ryan told TheJournal.ie that the department’s contract is based on a flat rate and is not charged per referral. The company does not take over the care of individuals referred, but is instead a support service to advise schools on how to handle the situation. “We’re there to ensure that from the school’s point of view they’re able to manage the health component,” he said.

Medmark sees hundreds of teachers every year to carry out health assessments, and although the company has not yet released its figures for 2011, is understood that the number of occupational health assessments it carried out for teachers last year rose by over 50 per cent on 2010.

Irish National Teachers’ Organisation spokesperson Peter Mullan said that that the healthcare system made sure that people got the right type of health advice early on and it was helping people get back to work.

“The whole focus is on prevention and returning people to work,” he said. “Before you were managing people almost out of the system by leaving them to their own GPs and if you missed so much time [from work] and then that time was up, you were suddenly off a cliff as regards to pay.”

Absenteeism

Meanwhile, one of the country’s main teachers’ unions says that recently released figures from the Department of Education are ‘overstating’ the level of teacher absenteeism from work.

According to figures released by Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn recently, over the 2010-2011 school year primary teachers recorded 231,446 absent days of certified illness and 47,578 days in uncertified illness.

For the same period, second-level teachers clocked up 132,566 days out of work with certified illness and 16,984 with uncertified illness.

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However, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) says that the figures are overstating the actual level of absenteeism because of the way the department records its data. The union says that if a teacher takes an hour off to go for a medical or dental appointment, the department counts that time as a full day off.

The union also said that because the department includes weekends and other days which the school would not actually be open for in its data, the level of absenteeism is being inflated.

The Department off Education told TheJournal.ie that system of counting weekends and holidays periods when they overlap with sick leave absences is in line with civil service norms in counting absences from work due to illness.

Last year, 1,084 teachers were issued with letters alerting them that due to the level of sick leave they had taken from work, they are in danger of being cut off from their pay.

The letters were introduced after a request from the INTO, which had sought an early warning system so that teachers “couldn’t get a nasty surprise” when their pay was cut off, according to Mullan.

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