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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’.

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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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