My Department has put in place an Occupational Health Strategy as a supportive resource for teachers and special needs assistants to promote their health in the workplace, with a focus primarily on prevention rather than cure. The Occupational Health Strategy comprises of the Employee Assistance and Occupational Health Services and caters for about 64,000 Teachers and 10,000 Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) in 4,000 Primary and Post Primary schools.
Medmark Occupational Healthcare is the current provider of occupational health services for teachers and SNAs. The Occupational Health Service encompasses health management and incorporates pre-employment health assessments, sickness absence management referrals, medical assessments of fitness for work and ill health retirement assessments and appeals. School authorities have responsibilities for ensuring the health, safety, well-being and educational progress of students. They also have a duty under Section 8 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to "ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of his or her employees". In order to discharge these management responsibilities effectively, it is essential that employers have access to professional occupational health advice on medical fitness. The Occupational Health Service is in place to assist employers and employees in the timely management of medical problems that arise in the context of work.
There are currently 81 Primary and 44 Post Primary teachers on unpaid sick leave. These figures are not broken down on a county by county basis. The number of referrals by schools to Medmark in 2011 was 1,289 and in 2012 was 1,842. Budget 2013 provided for the harmonisation of sick leave referrals with those in the civil service. This means that schools are required to refer teachers to the Occupational Health Service, after four weeks of sick leave resulting in the number of referrals increasing to 3,566 in 2013. The level of absenteeism due to sick leave has reduced in recent years with almost an 8% reduction in the past year.
Teachers, in accordance with the Education Act 1998, are employed by the school management authority of each individual school. Schools nominate eligible teachers for the payment of incremental salary grant and withdraw nominations on the departure of a teacher for whatever reason. My Department does not require that the school, when withdrawing a nomination, indicate the reason for that withdrawal.