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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)

  • 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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