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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)

  • 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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