Coughs and sneezes

19th December 2003 at 00:00
We have reached the season of red noses, when teachers take a few weeks off work, sit cosily by the fire and have lots of long lies. However, if teachers catching flu is as predictable as Christmas every winter, shouldn't something be done to prevent it?

Surprisingly the Scottish Executive has not drawn up flu league tables yet, as far as I know, although it would be interesting to discover how many teaching days are lost to flu.

Teachers seem to be prime candidates for catching influenza and when there has been an epidemic like this winter in Scotland, teachers' numbers are decimated. Being in contact with up to 150 people every day multiplies the chances of bumping into that virulent germ. With ventilation in some classrooms limited to opening a window, not a popular choice in winter, it is inevitable that a teacher will eventually succumb, unless he or she has an iron constitution. Yet it is all so avoidable.

It is probably not common knowledge that free influenza immunisation is not only available for the elderly. Under Department of Health recommendations, "NHS employers should offer flu immunisation to staff working in the delivery of frontline care or directly supporting patients or clients.

Social services employers should consider doing the same."

There are many compelling reasons why education departments should follow suit. If Glasgow's physiotherapists are considered valued enough to be offered a free flu immunisation, shouldn't the city's teachers be offered the same treatment?

Of course to inoculate all of Scotland's teachers against flu would be expensive. However, if the cost of inoculation was offset against the savings of employing teachers from the supply list at up to pound;150 a day, I am sure the bill would be recouped. It is not only about saving money but the quality of teaching and of life.

Most teachers will drag themselves into work because they know there will be no supply cover and they won't want to burden their colleagues with extra duties. In my experience that means the children have one grumpy teacher in front of them who is not fully focused on work and without the energy to get up on his or her hind legs to teach.

When teachers finally do revert to their sick beds, they generally don't give themselves long enough to recover due to their concerns about the work their classes are missing and come back to school far too early. This unfortunately has the knock-on effect of making other teachers more likely to catch something from them.

In our increasingly litigious climate, perhaps even now a teacher is talking with a lawyer about pursuing a case against an education department which wouldn't take every reasonable step to stop him or her catching the flu. Could fear of a lawsuit be the trigger to cause education departments to immunise teaching staff?

Gordon Cairns

Our Lady's High

Motherwell

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