131. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of persons on long-term or permanent sick leave from the Irish Prison Service. [7589/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I am advised by the Director General of the Irish Prison Service that there are currently 58 employees absent on long term sick leave. Long term sick leave in the Irish Prison Service is defined as instances where an employee is absent on sick leave for a continuous period of 92 days or more.
The Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan 2016 – 2018 sets out the four key actions for the Irish Prison Service, the first of which is Staff Support. The Irish Prison Service has its own Employee Assistance Programme with 3 full-time national Employee Assistance Officers. At local prison level staff have access to a network of almost fifty voluntary Staff Support Officers. This support network provides a confidential service offering information, advice and onward referrals on a wide range of personal and work-related issues. The Employee Assistance Programme plays a key role in supporting staff, particularly those who have been injured on duty.
In October 2016, the Irish Prison Service launched an Independent Counselling Service for staff, which is provided by Inspire Workplaces. This service is available to all staff and is free of charge. This is an important enhancement of the Irish Prison Service Employee Assistance Programme. This Counselling Service is completely confidential and is designed to assist employees in resolving personal or work-related concerns. It is a 24/7 Freephone helpline, with access to up to 6 counselling sessions for support covering a wide range of issues.
In February 2015, the Irish Prison Service launched its Accommodations (Rehabilitative/Restricted Duties) Policy which provides workplace rehabilitation that supports and enables injured or sick employees to remain at or return to the workplace to continue the discharge of work duties. The objective of this policy is to facilitate an early return to work following a period of sickness absence where an employee may not be fit for a “full range of operational duties”. This rehabilitation period will be for a maximum of 3 months following receipt of medical advice form the Officer of the Chief Medical Officer.