Government failure to guarantee GP death-in-service rights in England 'shameful'

BMA leaders have hit out a 'shameful' failure by the UK government to provide guarantees to locum GPs, retired doctors returning to the frontline and newly-qualified clinicians over death-in-service rights during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Westminster during lockdown (Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images)
Westminster during lockdown (Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images)

Doctors' leaders have been warning since the start of the coronavirus outbreak that doctors who may not be entitled to significant death-in-service benefits under existing rules need guarantees to allow them to work with confidence in the fight against COVID-19.

Locums have reported turning down shifts and limiting their workload during the pandemic, after high-profile cases in which the families of locum GPs who happened to die on a day when they were not scheduled to work were denied death-in-service payments, despite the doctors having contributed fully to the NHS pension scheme.

BMA leaders say letters to chancellor Rishi Sunak asking for guarantees over death-in-service rights in England have gone unanswered - despite the Scottish government providing guarantees for doctors north of the border.

COVID-19 pandemic

More than a month after the WHO declared a global coronavirus pandemic, with more than 20,000 deaths from coronavirus reported in hospitals - and with six GPs among scores of NHS workers to have lost their lives to the virus - the BMA has hit out at the government for 'dragging its heels'.

BMA pensions committee chair Dr Vishal Sharma said: 'Another week has passed, more healthcare workers have lost their lives and yet the government continues to drag its heels.

'This is particularly galling for the many doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who continue to put themselves at risk to protect and care for patients against this deadly virus, with the knowledge that their families will be provided no financial support if the worst should happen. This really is a shambolic, unacceptable and frankly shameful situation.

'To lose a father, wife, mother or husband is tragic enough, but to then face severe financial hardship because there is not adequate support available is absolutely dreadful.

Death in service

'Last week the Scottish government committed to providing a comprehensive death in service package for all NHS workers, so why has the Westminster government so far failed to give us the same assurances in other UK nations?

'We need clarity from the government on this, and we need it now - too many families are being and will continue to be impacted financially if a loved one dies.'

The BMA says the government should guarantee that all healthcare workers will receive the full death-in-service benefits available under the NHS pension scheme, regardless of their length of service or whether they are a current member of the NHS pension scheme.

The guarantees for non-members of the pension scheme come after thousands of doctors were forced to reduce their working hours or in some cases to quit the NHS pension scheme to avoid huge tax penalties that left some facing the prospect of losing out financially if they took on more work.

A DHSC spokesperson said: 'The death of any NHS worker is a tragedy and the whole country recognises the bravery of nurses, doctors, social care workers and many others who put themselves at risk to save lives during this global outbreak.

'We are evaluating the existing financial support for families of those on the frontline.'

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