£60,000 death-in-service offer could leave families in financial difficulty, warns BMA

GPs' families could face long-term financial problems if they die during the COVID-19 pandemic under government plans to pay a £60,000 death-in-service lump sum to bereaved families, the BMA has said.

£60,000 death-in-service payment offered (Photo: Tek Image/Science Photo Library/Getty Images)
£60,000 death-in-service payment offered (Photo: Tek Image/Science Photo Library/Getty Images)

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock announced on 27 April that a new 'life assurance scheme' would mean families of frontline NHS staff who lose their lives in the pandemic would receive the lump sum.

The scheme unveiled by the government does not replace existing death-in-service rights for NHS staff who are NHS pension scheme members, but aims to extend protection to doctors who fall outside this group.

The announcement of a £60,000 payment comes after weeks of pressure from doctors' leaders, who had accused the government of 'dragging its feet' and and a 'shameful' failure to guarantee death-in-service benefits for locums, older doctors returning to work in the pandemic, doctors who are not currently members of the NHS pension scheme and young doctors with limited years of service.

The government said the deal 'recognises the increased risk faced by staff during the crisis and will cover coronavirus related deaths of workers in frontline health and adult and children’s social care roles during the outbreak'.

Death in service

It said the scheme would 'cover staff who provide hands-on personal care for people who have contracted coronavirus or work in health or care settings where the virus is present' and that the £60,000 lump sum offered is 'worth roughly twice the average pensionable pay for NHS staff'.

It added that 'full, part-time or locum NHS and public health workers, including GPs, dentists, retired staff and second and final year students taking up paid frontline roles' would be covered.

However, BMA pensions committee chair Dr Vishal Sharma said: 'While this single payment may seem a sizeable sum, it comes nowhere near compensating families for the lifetime income their loved one may have earned if they hadn’t died prematurely, fighting this crisis on the frontline. This is particularly true for young or recently qualified staff.

'Increasing numbers of families are dealing with the loss of a loved one as the death toll for front line workers rises, they should not also face a future without financial security. The BMA will be examining closely the detail of the government’s life assurance scheme.'

COVID-19 pandemic

Dr Sharma added: 'Losing a loved one during these horrific times will be difficult enough for families, without the added pressure of losing what may be their main source of income, leaving them unsure of what the future holds.'

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: 'Nothing can make up for the tragic loss of a loved one during this pandemic. We owe a huge debt to those who die in service to our nation and are doing everything we can to protect them.

'Financial worries should be the last thing on the minds of their families so in recognition of these unprecedented circumstances we are expanding financial protection to NHS and social care workers delivering publicly funded care on the frontline.

'We will continue to strive night and day to provide them with the support and protection they need and deserve to keep them safe as they work tirelessly to save lives.'

The deal announced for England does not appear to go as far as the death-in-service offer for NHS staff in Scotland. A statement welcomed by BMA Scotland last week from the Scottish government said 'staff affected by COVID-19 as a result of providing frontline treatment for COVID-19 patients will receive the full lump sum and survivor’s pension benefits available under the terms of the NHS pension scheme'.

The Scottish government added: 'This includes permanent and fixed-term staff who are not members of the pension scheme, NHS bank and NHS locum staff. This will ensure parity between colleagues and provide reassurance for staff in these unprecedented times.'

Concerns over death-in-service rights for locum doctors have long been an issue of deep concern for the medical profession. The BMA lost a High Court case last year in which it argued that the denial of death-in-service payments to the family of a locum who happened to die on a day off was clearly unfair.

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