Zero hours deal to guarantee death-in-service rights for locum GPs

Locums will be guaranteed full death-in-service rights during the coronavirus outbreak under a zero hours contract that GP leaders hope to unveil later this week, GPonline has learned.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline that the doctors' union was working with NHS England on a deal to secure death-in-service rights for locums.

He said the deal 'could not come soon enough' to give doctors the assurances they need to take on work during the ongoing pandemic.

Locums are believed to make up at least 20% of the GP workforce - but polling shows many have turned down work since the COVID-19 outbreak began over concerns about sick pay and employment terms that can mean their families are denied a payout if they die on a day off.

Death in service

Dr Vautrey said he hoped that within 'the next few days' details would be made public of an agreement 'whereby locums will be employed on zero hours contract and will get death-in-service benefit' in line with the rest of the profession.

He said there would likely be a single arrangement nationally, with locums effectively contracted centrally to the NHS through a 'lead employer'.

The potential deal to secure locum death-in-service rights comes after an Essex GP was this week confirmed as the first NHS doctor to die after being infected with COVID-19 - and amid reports of significant numbers of deaths and infections among healthcare staff in other EU nations.

Death-in-service benefits for locums have been a long-running problem for general practice. The High Court rejected a BMA appeal last year over the case of a 40-year-old locum who died suddenly on a day off.

Locum GP Dr Helen Sanderson died without warning in December 2014 from cardiomyopathy. Her family was denied full death-in-service benefits that would have been payable for a doctor in a permanent role because she happened to die on a day when she was not contracted to work - despite having worked for the NHS in the preceeding days and having sessions booked in the days ahead.

Employment rights

She had worked as a salaried GP until just eight months before she died, but switched to locum work to spend more time with her two young daughters.

BMA lawyers argued at the time that it was 'clearly unfair that the family of a hardworking GP can be denied their full death-in-service benefits simply based on the day they died'.

The argument was rejected by the High Court on the basis that it was not possible 'to say that Dr Sanderson was still engaged under a contract for services at the time of her death' - a loophole that the zero hours agreement will seek to close.

One in three doctors polled by the National Association of GPs (NASGP) this month said they would not book further sessions without assurances over death-in-service rights. NASGP chair Dr Richard Fieldhouse warned that locums had been the 'cement holding general practice together' for a decade - and that failing to support them could severely affect the workforce during the ongoing pandemic.

The Doctors Association UK also found doctors turning down work over the same concerns in polling published this week and warned it would be 'morally unforgivable' to fail to provide assurances to locum GPs during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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