Failure to secure locum death-in-service benefits ‘morally unforgivable’, warn doctors

Failure to provide death-in-service guarantees to locum GPs during the coronavirus pandemic would be ‘morally unforgivable’, the Doctors Association UK (DAUK) has warned.

GP consultation (Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images)
GP consultation (Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images)

The grassroots doctors' group has revealed that locums feel like their lives have ‘little value’ as ministers remain silent on whether the sessional workforce will receive temporary protections during the coronavirus outbreak.

In a survey of 401 doctors conduced by the DAUK, almost 90% of clinicians said that they were less likely to return to practice, stay in practice, increase their hours or work in high risk areas because of a lack of guarantees.

Only 10% of respondents said that they had chosen not to change their hours and working patterns because of a lack of death-in-service benefits, which is proving to be ‘significant source of stress’ for the majority. It found concerns about a lack of protection were greatest among retired doctors and senior doctors who are at higher risk due to their age.

Locum GPs

The results come after a similar survey conducted by the National Association of Sessional General Practitioners (NASGP) found that half of GP locums were making themselves less available for bookings during the pandemic.

DAUK chair Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden has argued that all clinicians should be able to go to work in the knowledge that their family will be cared for should they die during the COVID-19 outbreak. Two UK doctors have died after being infected with coronavirus in the last week, while large numbers of deaths and infections have been reported among healthcare staff in other EU countries.

BMA sessional GP committee chair Dr Ben Molyneux has warned that many locums are unlikely to benefit from new government measures to protect the self-employed - urging a solution before they ‘begin falling sick’.

Meanwhile, a campaign raising money to find a solution to the problems faced by the families of locums who die during the pandemic has raised over £1,000.

Death in service

Last week the government announced a package of measures to support the self-employed workforce, meaning locum GPs can now claim the equivalent of statutory sick pay during the pandemic. However, under existing rules, a locum who dies on a day when they are not contracted to work may not be eligible for the lump sum that would be paid out for an employed colleague or partner - despite having paid contributions in full to the NHS pension scheme.

Dr Batt-Rawden said that locum GPs were ‘making extraordinary sacrifices’ turning up to work during the pandemic. She said: ‘Doctors across the country have stepped up to support the NHS through the pandemic. It is therefore morally unforgivable that… many have been told their families won’t be provided for in the event of their death.

‘We therefore ask Matt Hancock to ensure that all doctors receive death in service benefit... allow[ing] doctors to continue fighting this pandemic without the added stress of worrying about leaving their families in financial difficulty should they die in the line of duty.'

Less hours

DAUK GP lead Dr Yasotha Browne, added: 'Doctors in this situation have been telling us they are very concerned. It is a very real worry for them that healthcare workers could die as a direct result of working with patients who are COVID positive.

'Whilst they would like to serve during this crisis they fear if they were to die it would leave their families in financial difficulty. Many feel they therefore have little choice but to offer less hours or only do remote work, at a time when we need all available capacity.' 

Dr Molyneux told GPonline that he was hoping for a swift resolution to death-in-service benefit issue. He said: ‘At a time when the NHS is calling upon sessional GPs to help with the COVID-19 effort, it’s never been more important to ensure their own health, wellbeing and financial security is properly supported.

GP workforce

‘While the government has promised a support package for the self-employed, the criteria set out means it is unlikely that many locums will benefit from this, making it even more important for support to be put in place if we’re to keep our workforce protected during the hard times ahead.

‘The BMA also continues to work with NHS England and NHS Improvement to find a solution to both sickness and death in service benefits for locum GPs, but it’s essential these are worked through rapidly to provide sufficient benefit to doctors before they begin falling sick in the line of work.’

GPonline recently reported that GP locums could face huge financial difficulties and even go bankrupt if they had to self-isolate multiple times during the coronavirus outbreak.

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