Tuesday, 14 December 2021
Department of Education and Skills
The most up to date guidance in respect of the higher risk categories, for the education sector staff was published by the HSE in July 2021. As with all other guidelines around public health measures, my Department has been led by expert medical advice provided by the Government through the HSE and other relevant public bodies.
My Department’s Circular Letter 0042/2021 details the current working arrangements and leave arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic for teachers and special needs assistants employed in recognised primary and post primary schools. This Circular should be read in conjunction with Information Note TC 0027/2021 which was published on 6th December 2021.
The HSE advice on the ‘very high risk’ group is at link: www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/people-at-higher-risk.html. Having considered the most up to date HSE advice, if an SNA considers they are at very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19, they may apply to the Occupational Health Service (Medmark) for a COVID-19 health risk assessment to be carried out. Having considered the medical information provided with the OHS Risk Assessment Questionnaire, the OHS will provide the SNA with a ‘COVID-19 Health Risk Categorisation Report’ which advises whether they are at a very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19. The COVID-19 health risk categorisation assessments are performed by a team of qualified and experienced specialists in occupational medicine. Available medical evidence, including reports from treating consultants as well as vaccination status of SNAs, are considered during the OHS COVID-19 health risk categorisation assessment process.
Based on the details provided by the Deputy, Medmark carried out a COVID-19 health risk assessment on the SNA in question and he has been categorised as ‘high risk’. The ‘high risk’ group is defined by the HSE and in accordance with this advice, an SNA in the ‘high risk’ group who is not ill must attend the workplace and should take extra care to practice social distancing and hand hygiene and the use of personal protective equipment.
An SNA who has been categorised by Medmark and considers that the OHS ‘COVID-19 Health Risk Categorisation Report’ places them in an incorrect risk category, may request a review. Medmark will re-evaluate the medical evidence provided. The SNA may provide additional medical evidence as part of the review process. In a situation where the review outcome is that the COVID-19 health risk categorisation remains the same, a further review will only be undertaken, where additional medical evidence indicates there has been a change in the SNA’s medical status or where there is a change in the HSE guidelines for the ‘high risk’ group.
My Department has always been guided by public health advice in relation to appropriate COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures in place in schools. These measures protect students, their parents and school staff and are very effective to help prevent and control COVID-19 in schools. My Department will continue to work closely with public health officials and the education stakeholders in respect of the safe operation of schools during COVID-19.