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Health at a premium

Unions are increasingly offering special insurance deals. Anat Arkin looks at some of the schemes available. As teaching becomes increasingly stressful and even dangerous, the teacher unions are offering members personal accident plans, private medical cover and a growing range of other health-related insurance services.

"Over the past few years we have become acutely conscious of the impact of the job on members' health," said Gerald Imison, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

"In particular, ATL set up a stress helpline 18 months ago and the uptake on that has amazed us. The number of members who are taking infirmity pensions is also increasing. Couple that with a perception of declining National Health Service availability and we feel that our members need all the help they can get."

The ATL is exploring ways of providing hospital cash plans, critical illness cover and private medical insurance, though members can already buy cover from BUPA or PPP at slightly discounted rates.

The Nation-al Association of School Masters Union of Women Teachers is also looking at private medical insurance, while members of the Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) have for some time been able to buy cover at reduced rates from BUPA, PPP and some of the other leading private medical insurers.

Only the National Union of Teachers continues to hold out against private medical insurance, though it claims to have led the way in providing group insurance for teachers. In-service members are automatically covered by the NUT's well-established personal accident scheme, which pays Pounds 8,000 for death or permanent disability caused by accidents at work and Pounds 1, 000 if the accident occurred outside work. Union members who spend more than seven days in hospital as a result of work-related accidents receive an extra Pounds 100 a week.

Both the ATL and the NASUWT give automatic personal accident cover to members who pay their union subscriptions by direct debit.

Under the NASUWT's scheme the benefit for death or permanent disability arising from a work-related accident is Pounds 3,000. Where the accident is not connected to the member's job, the benefit goes down to Pounds 500.

Members of all four teacher unions can also buy extra cover at special rates from insurance companies linked to their unions. PAT, for example, is about to relaunch its personal accident plan which pays a lump sum of Pounds 50, 000 in the event of the policy-holder's death, total disability, paralysis of all limbs or complete loss of sight.

These benefits come on top of any compensation a teacher may be able to claim. But a personal injury claim can take years to resolve and, according to PAT's general secretary John Andrews, victims of serious accidents often need the more immediate cash benefits payable under a personal accident plan.

Mr Andrews added: "What we are offering here is simply an optional extra for members and their families and it's not just associated with teaching, although it is apparent to everybody that working in schools can be very dangerous. "

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