Do you suffer any of the following?

10th July 1998 at 01:00
Crass bureaucracy? Pointless queries? Invasive questions? endless form filling? If yes, you have the full sympathy of Jane Parker, who has developed an allergy to health questionnaires sent to supply teachers.

When did I have that crop of verrucas - '71 or '72? The LEA wants to know. Its health questionnaire "to be completed by all candidates" is sent to prospective supply teachers, presumably to see if they are fit to work. It is a demanding document, with more than 30 numbered items under the question: "Have you had any of the following?" In the space of half-an-inch allowed for each group of diseases, the candidate is required to answer Yes or No, but if Yes, to "indicate dates". There is no room to reply, but the candidate must sign that all answers are true and complete, understanding that any breach of the declaration could lead to the termination of your contract of employment.

Illnesses are grouped for almost all numbered questions, so that confessing to a spot of bronchitis is weighted the same as suffering from chronic tuberculosis, being allergic to penicillin the same as experiencing severe asthma, and having a joint pain the same as rheumatic fever. The readers of one's medical history will only be able to distinguish between childhood verrucas and later varicose veins by the date entered - and, really, why do they want to know?

Is the form to be analysed by a doctor, a clerk or the chief education officer? Whoever it is, the candidate may not mind listing his or her past operations or even the date of her last period if she has had a hysterectomy. But given the invasive nature of so many of the questions, it is surprising that she is not asked outright: are you pregnant? Perhaps this would count as sexual discrimination.

There is no coyness, however, over asking for information about "any conditions requiring hospital treatment".

"Are you currently receiving medical attention or taking medication? If yes, give details," is clearly a more important question than those about the past, because three-quarters of a line is given for the reply. But as teachers in post are not asked to report any medication they may be prescribed, is it really necessary to have this information from prospective supply teachers?

Perhaps if the person stops taking a medication for a couple of days, he or she can justify a nil or partial response to the question. The drug is quite likely to be irrelevant to future employment, anyway, but who is going to assess that taking it is a greater risk to children than not taking it?

The form says that it is confidential but not to whom; if it is to a council department, then surely that is not private enough for the individual, who is likely to be revealing more personal information to a non-medical recipient than ever before.

Since termination of employment is threatened for non-compliance, it is only fair that candidates should know exactly who is receiving their personal details - and where and for how long they are to be kept. More assurance is currently being given to those with criminal records than those who have medical records which they do not wish to share.

What is the purpose of this disturbing questionnaire? If it is to find out if candidates are likely to be a health risk to children, the questions are too generally framed to be of any use. Are they to be followed up by a more specific questionnaire?

If its aim is to discover if people are likely to be frequent absentees, why does it not ask about current lifestyle?

For the record, I am a non-smoker, drink only a very occasional glass of wine, swim twice a week and always climb the stairs rather than take the lift. But that's nothing to do with my future health - or is it?

* Jane Parker is a pseudonym

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