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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)

  • 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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