Locums hit out over death-in-service delay amid COVID-19 pandemic

Locum GPs and returners have yet to receive assurances over death-in-service rights more than a month after the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a global pandemic.

(Photo: Nora Carol Photography/Getty Images)
(Photo: Nora Carol Photography/Getty Images)

BMA leaders announced late last month that they were close to a deal that would guarantee death-in-service rights for locum doctors through the offer of a zero hours contract.

The deal was expected to close a loophole that denies full death-in-service payments to the families of locum doctors who happen to die on a day when they are not scheduled to work for the NHS - even if they have future sessions booked and have contributed fully to the NHS pension scheme.

The BMA and the National Association of Sessional GPs have warned that locum GPs need clear guarantees over death-in-service rights urgently to allow them to work with confidence during the coronavirus pandemic.

NHS workforce

Retired doctors returning to the NHS frontline, junior doctors and medical students also need clear guarantees over death-in-service protection during the pandemic, the BMA has warned.

The warning comes after GPonline reported last month that locums were turning down shifts or reducing their working hours over concerns about sick pay and death-in-service payments - and after the death of three UK GPs who had contracted COVID-19.

BMA sessional GP committee chair Dr Ben Molyneux said: 'GP locums will want to do all they can to support the NHS during these unprecedented times, but they urgently need the confidence to go to work with the reassurance that, should the absolute worst happen that their dependents will be properly provided for.

'The BMA has been lobbying hard on this issue, and we’re disappointed we’re yet to have any formal guarantees from the government. Our committed colleagues need these assurances now, without delay.'

Death in service

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul wrote to chancellor Rishi Sunak on 31 March calling for immediate guarantees over death-in-service rights - highlighting concerns for locums, retired doctors returning to the frontline during the pandemic and junior doctors or medical students.

Dr Nagpaul wrote: 'Retired doctors returning to the NHS (who were members of the 1995 section of the NHS pension scheme) to provide public service at this time of national need cannot re-join the scheme so their families would not receive a death-in-service lump sum.

'There are also issues for junior doctors and medical students that are being brought into premature working. As they are new joiners to the scheme, they will have less than two years’ experience and very little in the way of accrued pension to date.

'Therefore, even if they were an active member in the NHS pensions scheme, not only is the amount payable upon death to their family extremely low but no partner or dependant’s pension is payable.

Locum GPs

'The BMA has long highlighted the issue of inadequate death-in-service cover for doctors and in particular the issue with locum GPs that has recently resulted in a high court challenge. At present if a locum GP was to work regularly on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays but died on a Tuesday, they are also not eligible to receive the full death-in-service benefit. There are other circumstances where death-in-service cover is reduced or lacking.'

The BMA chair - a north London GP - added: 'This is not a time to be complacent. We know that some doctors have sadly died or developed significant illnesses as a result of this terrible disease, which is why every one of them, be they new to the NHS or returning from retirement, must have access to enhanced death-in-service cover.

'The BMA has repeatedly asked the government for reassurances that adequate death-in-service cover is provided for all NHS staff, if necessary, under emergency measures. Now, as the world faces one of the toughest challenges in a generation, it is essential that this is enacted.'

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