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BMA to launch legal challenge to secure death-in-service benefits for GP locums

Exclusive The BMA is in the process of drawing up a legal challenge against NHS Business Services Authority over death-in-service benefits for locum GPs.

GP leaders have said the current system is ‘not acceptable’ as it means locums would have to ‘die at work, at your desk’ in order for their loved ones to access their NHS pension benefits.

Meanwhile, partners and salaried GPs are covered on a continuous basis, with their families able to access their NHS pension regardless of when they die.

This comes after locum GP who died was considered not to have ‘died in service’ because she had not been scheduled to work on the day of her death.

The BMA confirmed to Pulse that it has submitted a test case to the Pensions Ombudsman who is in the process of reviewing it ahead of launching a formal legal challenge against NHS Business Services Authority.

Dr Zoe Norris, chair of the BMA’s sessional subcommittee, said that the BMA had put test cases directly to the NHS Business Services Authority but the GP locums had been told they were ineligible for death-in-service benefits.

She said: ‘So we’ve gone to the ombudsman and we’re awaiting the outcome of the ombudsman’s review and if that doesn’t go in our favour then that will be a legal challenge.’

Dr Norris told Pulse that the BMA is pursuing a legal challenge for clarity regarding the circumstances under which a locum’s family can claim death-in-service benefits. 

She said: ‘It’s unacceptable that locums don’t know if they were to be in the horrible situation of dying at some point, whether or not their loved ones are going to have access to their pension benefits.’

She added that the current situation is such that if a locum was booked to work on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday but died on Tuesday, they ‘wouldn’t get death-in-service’.

She said: ‘So pretty much, unless you die at work at your desk, then the current situation seems to be that you don’t get it.

‘However, there’s a real lack of clarity… and that’s not acceptable.’

Dr Norris said that if NHS BSA give ‘a definitive no’ that locums are not entitled to death-in-service benefits outside of working hours, ‘then we need to be advised about what protection they can take out for that’.

She added that the BMA would like for locums to be granted death-in-service benefits ‘if they’ve got clear evidence that they are currently providing NHS services over the previous six or 12 months’.

She said: ‘It should be continuous. We are paying into the NHS pension, so we shouldn’t have different benefits for locums compared to other GPs.’

The Department of Health and Social Care told Pulse that GP locums benefit from the flexible lifestyle of temporary work and in choosing a locum career should consider the terms of the NHS pension scheme and make sure they make arrangements to cover the unfortunate event of dying prematurely when out of work.