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Independents' Day

Family of GP locum who died on 'day off' denied death-in-service benefits

Sessional GPs have called for a review of regulations after the family of a locum GP who tragically passed away on a ‘day off’ was denied death-in-service benefits.

The National Association of Sessional GPs (NASGP) said the GPC must negotiate for a change in terms and conditions as current regulations amounted to ‘exploitation’ of a loophole.

Under the existing rules, if a GP locum dies on a day when they are not contracted to work they are not covered and their family will not be entitled to the death-in-service benefit, even if the GP in question was scheduled in for a string of shifts.

NASGP highlighted the case of 40-year-old Dr Helen Sanderson, who died suddenly on Christmas Eve 2014, leaving behind a husband and two young children. The NHS Pension Scheme ruled that Sanderson’s situation could not be considered as a ‘death in service’ because she died on a day she was not scheduled to work.

As a result, Dr Sanderson’s family will now receive more than £110,000 less in compensation than if they had been entitled to the death-in-services benefit, and face the prospect of having to leave their home as a result.

According to her husband Carl, the ruling came despite Dr Sanderson having been booked in for sessions stretching into the summer of this year.

He told NASGP: ‘To say that she had left the service is a ludicrous over-interpretation of those regulations.’

NASGP chair Dr Richard Fieldhouse, a sessional GP in Chichester, said the rules were an affront to families who had seen a family member passing away whilst dedicating their life to a ‘stressful’ GP career.

He added that he ‘does not know how’ BMA has not yet been successful in negotiating a change to the ‘ridiculous’ regulations which meant NHS Pensions can rule someone was not in service ‘when clearly they are’.

He said: ‘This is basically putting two fingers up to the bereaved family as what they are saying is “yes, Dr Sanderson had been working in the NHS and was due to work in the NHS tomorrow - but we can save a bit of cash here by effectively exploiting this loophole”.’

‘This situation has been around for quite a few years [but] as there are more and more locums so this seems more likely to happen in the future. [T] the BMA has to do something about this.’

NHS Pensions was approached for a comment but said the Department of Health negotiates pensions terms and conditions.

GPC sessional subcommittee deputy chair Dr Mary O’Brien said the BMA agrees that the current rules around spousal access to their pension rights are ‘completely unfair’.

She said: ‘We have made our views clear to the Department of Health and intend to continue pressing them for reform of this fundamentally flawed arrangement.’

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Readers' comments (35)

  • These bureaucrats have no humanity.
    RIP Dr sanderson. my condolences to your family

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  • Why am I shocked. The NHS treats its staff horribly, and Locums even worse.

    Shame on you NHS pensions.

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  • Pretty disgraceful if you ask me. I'd bank on DH targeting NHS pensions further for Locums. They think that Locums will enter GPland again, when the reality is they'll look further afield.

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  • Seems you have to be working 24/7 to be entitled...but I forgot, that's what the government seem to want. This is a complete disgrace and completely unfair to those who provide locum service. Surely if you are still contributing towards your pension with regular superannuation contributions, you are still in service, whether you are at work on the die you day or not. I think Pulse ought to arrange for a petition!

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  • Sorry. So incensed, didn't proof read properly! "day you die"

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  • This is very sad and I feel enormously for the family involved.
    However, I don't know of any other employer who gives pension rights to temporary staff and I think we are lucky as locums to be able to both contribute and get our employer to contribute on our behalf.
    It is difficult to determine when we ar " in employment". For example, as an extreme, would a locum who booked in advance two sessions a year in the same practice be entitled to cover? What level of work does entitle you to the benefit?
    At present the rule is that each period of work is treated separately. That is clear on the pension form which a locum submits at the end of each month.
    When I stopped working last December, the pensions agency person I spoke to made it quite clear that my membership stopped on the last day that I worked.

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  • 'I don't know of any other employer who gives pension rights to temporary staff'

    I think you are forgetting that locum GPs can only work for one employer - the NHS in whatever guise and without them the NHS will collapse overnight. The pension rights are part of the negotiated compensation for accepting this monopolistic arrangement. Whatever way you look at this, treating locums in such a shabby manner is clearly wrong.

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  • Vinci Ho

    If DoH/NHSE treating GPs like sh** is the philosophy , locum GPs are being treated like sh** of the sh** in this case.
    RIP , Dr Sanderson .........

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  • Extremely sad and appalling situation. The ethos of the NHS as a family looking after its own is long gone. It seems the bma is not aware of this pensions anomaly Richard. Below is an extract from the bma website locums and pensions. It implies that if sessions are scheduled ahead then there is entitlement to death benefits even if death occurs on a "day off".

    Am I eligible for death in service benefits?
    If you work exclusively as a GP locum, you will only be covered for death in service benefits if you die whilst contributing to the scheme.

    If, for example, you are scheduled to locum for a practice for four weeks and were to die on a Sunday during those four weeks your spouse, nominated person or estate would receive a payment of twice your average dynamised earnings.

    If, for example, you are scheduled to locum for a practice for five days from Monday to Friday of one week and you were to die on the Friday evening, after your scheduled work had ended, no death in service payment would be payable.

    Even where death in service is not payable, the NHS pension scheme provides for another type of cover.

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  • NASGP and the GPC should apply pressure. This is clearly not acceptable and inhumane.

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  • Secure environments GP

    It's appalling and heartless. One single pension contribution in each financial year should be sufficient to be "in service". In effect that is what partners do once superannuation certificate is finalised.

    This needs fixing ASAP. In the meantime get a massive level term life insurance policy.

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  • I'm not being funny but isn't this part of the risk you take being a locum? You get paid a premium but don't have the same benefits as somebody getting paid considerably less in a salaried post.

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  • Those locums are contributing to their pension and holding together the nhs. Surely industrial action is appropriate for this?

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  • Shameful action by DoH and NHSPA this is what separates us from them ,every day we deal in acts of human kindness whereas they tick boxes and fill in forms hopefully they will make a u turn but the fact that this cruel deed had occurred tells us all we need to know about these dreadful people ,may god have mercy on their soul for II don't

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  • Just Your Average Joe

    If an MP dies in the Summer break, for the House of Commons, while working for a private corporate sponsor destined to destroy the NHS - Bet they would be paid death in service benefits.

    RIP - hope the publicity results in a pay out for the bereaved family - as it is HER money that has been paid in with blood sweat and toil over the years, simply coming back in a time of need.

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  • It is a further display of the contempt in which we are all held.

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  • it is clear there is no sympathy or caring for GP's or anyone who works in the NHS. Yet we are judged on subjective opinions about being "caring, sympathetic, blah blah blah". hypocrisy at its best.

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  • 8.17 but MP's are 'salaried' this is the difference. You might want your cake and eat it, locums are by nature 'self employed' and unless they are working for an agency they are entitled to the NHS pension, but why a self employed person benefits from their contractor paying the 'employer' element is beyond me, I cant think of anywhere else that it happens.

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  • I was a pension manager and identified this as a potential problem 4 or 5 years ago. I was however told by NHS pensions that as long as there was evidence of sessions being booked in and the break in service was less than 3 months, it would be deemed as continuous employment! At that time the accuracy of the information I was receiving from the helpdesk was hit and miss so perhaps I should have sought confirmation from the policy team!

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  • A total an utter disgrace
    No wonder GPs are leaving in droves

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  • I feel that the increased use of locums came at exactly the time that pension retirement age was increased to nearly 70 with movable goal posts. It is no longer the case that Doctors, nurses, receptionists and anyone else employed to work for the NHS has to worry about losing a pension, as they may never be able to claim it. Therefore, they are voting with their feet and locuming back to the NHS at increased rates to allow them to invest in their future, to enable them to retire at .... 60. So, raising NHS pension age was self defeating. If I thought I would lose the 'perk' of being able to retire at 60, then it would much more likely keep me in employment.

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  • Payment of superannuation contributions entitles you to benefits.
    Payment of superannuation contributions is ONLY POSSIBLE if you are 'in service'.
    Thus, by definition.......
    All the BMA has to say is that it has 'made it's position clear' to DoH.
    What a disgrace. this is a fundamental question that should have been noticed by BMA and fixed decades ago.
    BMA has done nothing to ensure fair treatment. BMA has a duty to this doctor's family to ensure NHSSS pays out, or to pay up from BMA coffers themselves - the BMA bigwigs do pretty well financially from failing to negotiate humane treatment for GPs.

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  • Is a full-time GP Partner or salaried doctor entitled to 'death-in-service' benefits if they die on a day off? Is that denied too?
    What if I die in transit between surgery and a home visit? does that count as 'non-work' time too? How ridiculous will BMA allow the DoH to get?
    I think it is strike time!

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  • locum doctors pay into same pension scheme (which provides these protections on death) as the rest of us salaried doctors and partners.
    If a salaried/partner chose to work only 1 session a week- they would still be covered by full protection.
    yet a locum working 10 sessions a week paying same pension does not have these rights??
    This is a complete affront to all locum doctors - and should be the subject of vigerous campaigning by locum and non-locum doctors alike
    (and no I am not a locum)

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  • shame on those beurocrates and politician who must have played a very important role in allowing such loop holes. I am sure Dr Sanderson must have been contributing towards her NHS pension and expected that she and her family to entitled to the benefit.
    It is ridiculous that as locum you are not covered on your off days and have no human rights or values.

    We give more protection of human rights if one arrives on a boat across Mediterranean sea.

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  • Until they get this sorted, I think all locums should be looking for a friendly partner friend - to be contracted for a couple of seconds per day. If it stops the government from exploiting this loophole then I'd be for it.

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  • @3:15
    even that is too much.
    one script signed per week should it.

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  • Utterly ridiculous. This has got to be challenged. Don't die at the weekend or whilst away on holiday. What about job-share arrangements, even for permanent staff would dying on a monday when you only work thursday and friday invalidate your spouses claim.

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  • Can't believe that I have actually read this story. It's about time GP's threw their toys out of their prams and stood up for themselves and their beliefs...stop accepting all the c**p thrown at you ......stand United and fight!

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  • This is terrible. I had no idea that being a Locum means you're effectively denied this central benefit of the NHS pension. You're either in the NHS pension or your not surely?...if your working as a locum employed directly by a practice you are allowed to contribute to the NHS pension scheme. How can it be right for locums to be discriminated against in this way? I work exclusively for the NHS...I work nowhere else. So if I die I have to die at my desk, stethoscope in hand for my family to get death in service benefits...if it's the weekend...between Friday's Locum job and the one on Monday ...they get nothing?? even though I contribute exactly the same amount to the same NHS pension as the salaried GP I work besides. Absolutely despicable. I'm in the NHS pension am I ?...seems not ...just part of it...even though I contribute the same percentage of my income....Angry is not the word. If they think this kind of thing might encourage people to stay salaried they're wrong. It's time to quit the NHS pension. It's becoming increasingly worthless..a liability in the UK similar to the qualification in General Practice itself. Drs are big contributors to the NHS pension, that includes locums ...the more who leave the less there's going to be to fund everyone else.

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  • I cant believe this my wife just checked that we had this benefit and was confimed that I did and no life insurance needed. they never mentioned this.
    Makes no sense whats the difference between me and a partner we pay the same pension why should we not be eligible for the same benefits?
    Locums should get a reduced rate if we wont get all the benefits.
    To all the tw@#s who keep saying: Ive never heard of other temporary staff getting pension. Get over it. Who cares if you've never heard of it. Theres probably a lot you've never heard of. It happens here. Plus were not temporary staff were working for the NHS day in day out and partners are also self employed so they shouldn't get it either if were applying those rules.

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  • How absolutely disgraceful. Many condolences to the family of young Dr Sanderson who gave her life to serve the NHS and her patients. To be treated like that after such service is unconscionable.

    I wonder that NASGP haven't sorted this out themselves. After all, they were quite happy to take the credit for getting locums included in the NHS pension scheme in the first place.

    It seems this loophole about "days off" can be interpreted in all sorts of totally unreasonable ways and I am not at all clear about when they will pay up. I contributed to the scheme as a partner and salaried GP and every month that I have worked as a full time locum, but what if I am killed on the Motorway while driving between a morning session in one practice and an afternoon session in another, at a weekend, on a Friday afternoon, (the only time of the week I do not do NHS work), or on a study day? It seems they could interpret this as meaning that unless you keel over with the patient sat in front of you, no death in service benefit is payable. With such an outrageous ruling as this, will anyone trust these people again? I pay exactly the same premiums as a Partner (currently 13.5%) so my wife and daughter should be entitled to exactly the same benefits so long as I have not formally left the NHS Pension Scheme and withdrawn any contributions made. The reasons for staying in this job decrease by the day.

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  • Would a zero hours contract with a practice work, perhaps with a minimum of one shift per year?

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  • Here is the official statement on the NHS Pensions Agency's website. It seems that if you die on your half day, a study day, annual leave or weekend, your dependents get no death in service benefit, even though we are expected to pay the same premium as Partners and salaried GPs. And why do they treat locum GPs differently from locum dentists, a case of discrimination on the face of it?

    "A GP locum is regarded as being in pensionable service when they are at work and paying into the Scheme.

    For example, if your only pensionable employment is as a GP locum contracted to work 09:00 Monday to 17:00 Wednesday you are covered for ‘death in service’ benefits from 09:00 Monday until 17:00 Wednesday. If you die on the Thursday, regardless of whether you were due to return to work the following Monday, this is not regarded as being in pensionable service meaning you would be eligible for ‘death benefits within 12 months of leaving’.

    This information only applies to GP locums and not locum Dentists. If a locum Dentist or locum Dental Performer is a qualified dentist who works at a GDS / PDS Practice on an occasional basis and is performing GDS / PDS then they are regarded as a normal Practitioner not as a GP Locum. This is regardless of the length of time they are working as a Dental locum."

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  • http://contactcentreservices.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/selfnhsukokb/AskUs_Pensions/template.do?name=What+is+the+life+assurance+entitlement+for+GP+locums%3F&id=16741

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