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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)

  • 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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