Private firm linked to fall in disability pay-outs for teachers
THE number of primary teachers being granted early retirement due to ill health has fallen sharply since a private medical company was hired to do the assessments.
Medmark, which is partly run by a brother of Green Party minister Eamon Ryan, was awarded the €700,000-plus contract to carry out all teacher health assessments in 2008.
Previously, the work was carried out by the Department of Education's chief medical officer.
The number of primary teachers granted early retirement on ill-health grounds dropped from a high of 56 in 2006 to just 32 last year, figures obtained by the Irish Independent under the Freedom of Information Act reveal. The average age of the teachers is 53.
In 2004, the number of teachers retiring early on disability grounds was 46, in 2005 it was 52 and in 2007 it was 38.
A teacher with at least five years' service who is found to have a "permanent and total disability" can be awarded a disability pension for life and a tax-free lump sum.
Medmark describes the granting of early retirement through ill health as a "measure of last resort".
It rejected 18 of the 60 primary teachers who applied for early retirement on ill-health grounds in 2008 and rejected 15 of the 40 applications last year.
But the figures also show many primary teachers successfully appealed these rejections.
Nine of the 17 primary teachers who appealed the company's verdict in 2008 were successful -- a 53pc success rate.
And seven out of the 13 teachers (54pc) who appealed the refusal decision by Medmark last year were successful.
Medmark is obliged to refund the medical costs of teachers whose appeals are successful. The number of primary teachers who retired on ill-health grounds last year (32) represents just 0.1pc of the 31,000 primary teachers employed.
Medmark has clinics in Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Cork. It is now responsible for the occupational health service for primary and secondary teachers.
This includes pre-employment health checks for new teachers, medical testing of teachers on long-term sick leave and evaluation of those seeking early retirement on ill-health grounds.
Medmark's management team includes Dr Robert Ryan, a brother of Communications Minister Eamon Ryan.
But there is no suggestion the minister had any involvement in the awarding of the medical assessment contract to Medmark by the Department of Education. The company has been paid more than €1.8m by the department so far, including €633,140 in 2008, €735,900 in 2009 and €477,650 this year.
There has also been a fall in the number of secondary teachers granted early retirement on ill-health grounds -- from a high of 49 in 2004 to 39 in 2008 and 42 last year.
However, the department said it did not have figures for how many teachers applied for early retirement before 2008, how many were rejected or how many successfully appealed.
The department also said it did not hold information on the 10 most common illnesses or conditions that caused teachers to apply for early retirement. A spokesperson for the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) described the introduction of the Medmark scheme as largely positive. He said previously there were few supports in place for teachers with health difficulties.
But now there was intervention at an earlier stage in an illness by Medmark and the provision of expert advice, consultation and follow up .
"There is some anecdotal evidence that, because of this, there are fewer applications for retirement on ill health, leading to fewer such retirements," the spokesman told the Irish Independent.
The INTO does not collect statistical details on the type of illnesses that are responsible for teachers retiring early. But it said there is some evidence that the incidence of stress-related illness is high in teaching. Medmark could not be contacted for comment.