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chronic infections and trying to be a primary school teacher

JoJoZ17 profile image
18 Replies

Hello. This is my first post on here. I didn’t know this existed until a week ago and it’s good not to feel so alone!

I have been a teacher (reception children aged 4-5) for over 15 years now. I am sure that it has contributed to me getting more chest infections. Last year I was on antibiotics pretty much all year and had to 70 days off. It was awful. I am with Barts Severe Asthma Clinic. Lots of steroids too.

I am looking into taking early retirement from teaching on medical grounds. I will still be able to do another job and am training to be a counselor/psychotherapist evenings and weekends. Barts say they can’t give me a letter to support my teaching retirement until they have exhausted all possible treatments. I am not eligible for their biological injections apparently. They are trying me on x3 a week azithromycin antibiotics. I’ve had these before and they didn’t do a lot.

Kind of reached the end of my tether with what to do next. So not sure what to ask from you lovely people! Maybe:

Anyone get support from Barts Severe Asthma clinic?

Anyone had experience of early retirement on health grounds?

Anyone else have recurrent chest infections? Anything worked for you?

I do everything by the book it seems… swim and run when no infection and eat so healthily.

Had CT scan in 2018. Mild bronchiectasis. Due another scan to see if it has worsened. Had nose (septum) operation last summer so can breathe through my nose now.

At a loss really and feel pretty fed up. I’ve been off school for the past month. Three lots of antibiotics and still not better so sputum sample done again to see which antibiotics I need now.

Sorry this is a ramble!! Xx

18 Replies
Bevvy profile image

I was medically retired 2yrs ago, from local authority. I have multiple health conditions and have fought against “giving up” for years. Despite having to reduce my hours and having no energy to do anything apart from rest when not at work. The last time I was off work long term due to pneumonia I knew this time it felt different and that I would struggle to return. I did return but was on very reduced hours and the question of ill health retirement came up.

Firstly the question was raised with occupational health who asked for a report from my gp. They also had notes from appointments with them. The information was sent to an independent doctor who assessed whether or not I met the criteria for retirement on health grounds.

It is not easy to gain medical retirement, because depending on age it is very expensive for a local authority. I was only early 50’s when it was agreed. In my case it was deemed (and this significantly affects amount of pension received) that I would never be well enough to return to work. I also had support from my union - although to be honest they weren’t that helpful but as a member I figured I should use them! The whole process took a number of months. I think it was 5-6 altogether and I found it was stressful throughout but I had good support from my manager. I think you need to consider reasons for asking for medical retirement. In local authority it has to be proven you are not well enough to carry out any job. Not necessarily the job you are currently doing. The fact you are considering retraining and /or doing another job, would mean you would be unlikely to receive local government pension I’m afraid.

If you decide to go ahead you will need medical support but not necessarily from hospital doctors. My report came from gp. Get union support (if you are in one), your HR department and manager would be heavily involved. Finally you need to consider what your options are if you are turned down for retirement on health grounds.

JoJoZ17 profile image
JoJoZ17 in reply to Bevvy

Thanks for your reply. Just popping out now so can't write much and my kids are calling me.. Yes spoken to NEU union - really helpful. I would not fully retire, just be medically unfit to 'teach'. I can see it will be a long journey and I guess if the hospital can help me get this under control it might not need to happen.

Really useful having all of these perspectives on this forum. I so appreciate it. Jo

Poobah profile image

I'm responding with my ex-union hat on. Early retirement on Medical grounds is difficult, but not impossible, to achieve. The two main criteria usually are;

1) establish you are permanently unable to work again before normal retirement age; and

2) demonstrate that you have exhausted all available treatments and medications for your condition.

Details on early retirement on medical grounds can be found in your workplace pension handbook, which will probably be found on the pension provider website. Their criteria will be set out in the handbook and the process may also be detailed.

Before an employer reaches the point where they have no option but to dismiss an employee for poor attendance, they will have explored alternative arrangements or duties with the input of occupational health. OH will have had access to your medical records and have knowledge about your workplace and duties. Their assessment will recommend reasonable adjustments that are designed to lessen your exposure to workplace risks. Sometimes this isn't possible as recommendations are beyond reasonable for the employer.

So my first question is, have you been able to work with your OH practitioner to identify risks and explore ways to decrease them? You don't have to wait for your employer to refer you to OH and you can request a referral if you believe that your workplace is affecting your health and well-being.

If you're in a union, seek out a rep who has experience and success in these type of cases. Understanding the criteria and process is key to making the right decisions.

One observation I've made over the last 4 decades, the closer you are in age to your normal retirement age, the easier it is for a doctor to commit to stating that an individual is permanently unfit to work.

JoJoZ17 profile image
JoJoZ17 in reply to Poobah


Thanks so much for you reply. I am seeing occupational health in a couple of weeks time. I am looking to only retire from teaching but not all work but we shall see as hospital don't seem keen to 'write me off' until they have exhausted all treatments. Union (NEU) have been amazing. I'm 51 so not that near retirement and I don't want to retire. I'll work elsewhere if I don't teach - training to be a psychotherapist but that's a few years off still.

Not writing much as popping out now but will come back and write more... thanks again. Jo

Chip_y2kuk profile image

I have an odd question about your infections when you start getting sick do you bark like a dog/seal (adult croup type stuff)

Have you had spirometry done at the asthma clinic? ... was it normal?

pink123floyd profile image
pink123floyd in reply to Chip_y2kuk

Oh chip you just described my cough but when i tell the GP he says Adults dont get croup😂 😂

Chip_y2kuk profile image
Chip_y2kuk in reply to pink123floyd

No they don't normally, but you sort of describe me and I was asked that same question in hospital by the respiratory consultant and what adults do get is Large airway collapse

The symptoms of which are:


Coughing (a barking seal like cough)

Frequent (almost constant) chest infections

"Dodgy spirometry" .... with dips and peaks in (apparently spirometry should be a 45 ish degree decline from start to finish,mine has never looked like that )

It feels like you walk past a cold and end up with a chest infection


JoJoZ17 profile image
JoJoZ17 in reply to Chip_y2kuk

Hello Chip. My spirometry and lung function is very good apparently but I have another test on Wednesday. My cough is not like a bark. It's quite dry and when unwell ...oooh don't know how to describe it but not seal like.

I don't get any other illnesses apart from chest infections it seems.

Popplemoggy profile image

Hi JoJo, I am so sorry to hear you are struggling so much. I am not surprised you feel at the end of your tether, it is exhausting being chronically unwell and can be very overwhelming trying to navigate through GPs , consultants and clinics etc. I was wondering if your Bronchiectasis is well controlled? I say this because I was like you, very unwell for several years, always getting chest infections and taking antibiotics and steroids almost constantly for 3 years. I too am an asthmatic and I was convinced it was my Asthma flaring up, as was my Asthma nurse and GP, because a lot of the symptoms can be the same or very similar to Bronchiectasis. I had changed and increased dosage of asthma inhalers to find there were no improvements. Eventually after many scans, spirometry and blood tests I was diagnosed with Bronchiectasis and Aspergillosis and thats when it all finally made sense to me. The ongoing infections, the difficulty breathing, the coughing etc. Once I had been diagnosed I was given a range of treatments and put under the care of a respiratory physio. I am now on a nebuliser daily and it has literally changed my life. I hadn't worked for years and I am now back at work, I am able to exercise and have been infection free for 14 months now and I finally feel as though I am getting my life back.

I was wondering, are you on any treatments for your Bronchiectasis?

Do you think it is well controlled? Are you under a Respiratory Physio?

If you are not then it may be worth considering speaking with your GP to get a referral to explore this route.

I hope you can resolve what is going on and get the support and the answers that you need.

All the best to you.

JoJoZ17 profile image
JoJoZ17 in reply to Popplemoggy

Thank you so much for your message. I'm really glad to hear that you are feeling so much better and it gives me hope to. I love exercising - swimming and running and it's so upsetting not to be able to do.

Nothing is well controlled at the moment. It's awful! The bronchiectasis is supposed to be mild so I don't think they're over concerned about that and my lung function is really good. Interesting about the Aspergillosis. I will ask about that. I'm seeing a nurse on Wednesday at William Harvey Heart Centre who do research trials with asthma. I could ask her if I've been tested already for this. I have seen a respiratory physio too and do quite a lot of breathing exercises including Buteyko and I try to remember to huff etc which I should probably do more.

I am under the Difficult Asthma Clinic at Barts. They are good but they seem so busy but I'm preserving and apparently they're looking into different plans including a histamine test (?!) as my inflammation makers are so high. It's just quite a slow process.

Thanks again x

pink123floyd profile image

Welcome and glad you found us .I too suffered chest infections every month until i was put on azithromycin. 500 which i take every day with carbacistine750 as i produce to much mucus both have helped me a lot .sorry you are suffering but on here we and then dont feel as we are struggling alone.take care.xx

JoJoZ17 profile image
JoJoZ17 in reply to pink123floyd

Hello. I've just been prescribed azithromycin too. I had it before though and it didn't do much for me... but let's see.

Hospital said they're going to do a 'histamine' test but not until April as they don't have the histamine!!

I'm also in contact with the research department linked to Barts Hospital and they may possibly have a clinical trial for me.

Thank you though and I'm so glad I found this forum as I've been feeling so alone with this worries for many years! xx

Singinglouder profile image

Hi JoJo. Definitely check up on possibilities. When I took medical retirement, like Bevvy I had to be unable to work at all. I was assessed by an OH doctor, who I’d seen before to try to keep me working, which helped, as he could see the difference. However, I also had 3 years teacher’s pension from my 20s, which I applied for at the same time. As I remember it, for those with longer service (ie not my 3 years!) there were two levels of medical pension: unable to teach, and unable to work at all. Don’t know what the difference would be financially, as it didn’t apply to me. My TP forms, incidentally, were signed by my GP, tho I think I did include the OH letter from my main occupation.

Incidentally, if you haven’t signed up for TP Online it’s worth doing - loads of information, plus all the forms, so you can see what they ask to make their decision. I’d also second Poobah’s advice to talk to your union before doing anything, if you’re in one.

Hope things improve for you, whether you can stay in teaching or not.

JoJoZ17 profile image
JoJoZ17 in reply to Singinglouder

Hi thanks so much. Yes I've signed up for TP Online finally after all these years! I am seeing occupational health in the next two weeks so I guess we go from there. I would go I guess for the tier of not being medically fit to just teach, not to totally not work ever again. I know once I get on top of this and get the right treatment I'll be ok. This condition is just not controlled. I don't think I would receive much at all from pension but let's see...

Yes spoke to union. They were really really helpful. So good. I'll keep in touch with them once I've spoken with occupational health.

Singinglouder profile image
Singinglouder in reply to JoJoZ17

Glad you’re optimistic about improving your health. Do listen to what OH/your GP say, tho, even if they’re more pessimistic. It’s quite possible to take a pension at a higher level, then adjust it if your health improves, which can give you more to live on while you’re improving it. As you say, your OH appointment is a good start - hope it goes well

JoJoZ17 profile image
JoJoZ17 in reply to Singinglouder

thank you. Yes let’s see what OH say. Yes ever optimistic… have to try to otherwise I would go mad!! X

HalleysComet profile image

I can so sympathise with you. I know your school head too must be fed up having to pay for supply teachers to replace you for no fault of your own. Have you asked your head teacher to help put the case that you cannot carry on in a face-to-face teaching role? Your absences must be authorised by sick notes from the GP, so there is plenty of evidence they have to back up your claim.

JoJoZ17 profile image
JoJoZ17 in reply to HalleysComet

Hello thank you. Yes I'm seeing an occupational health person in a week's time so we will see where we go from there. I teach two days a week and the other two I'm an assistant head teacher. The other day I'm training to be a counsellor/psychotherapist. It's full on!

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