The families of all frontline NHS staff who die with Covid-19 will now qualify for death-in-service benefits, the Government has announced.
The new life assurance scheme will ensure that the families of frontline NHS staff and social care workers who die from coronavirus ‘in the course of their frontline essential work’ will receive a one-off £60,000 payment, it said.
The time-limited scheme will cover full, part-time and locum NHS workers in England, including GPs, retired staff and second and final year students taking up paid frontline roles during the pandemic.
GP leaders said the announcement was a ‘kick in the teeth’ and could leave bereaved families facing ‘a future without financial security’.
The Government will meet the cost for bereaved family members to receive a £60,000 lump sum worth ‘roughly twice the average pensionable pay for NHS staff’, it said.
Claims will be initiated by employers on behalf of the individual’s families and verified and processed ‘swiftly and sensitively’ by the NHS Business Services Authority, it added.
Cover will be provided while the NHS workforce provisions in the Coronavirus Act 2020 are in force – which took effect on 25 March – but claims for deaths that occurred before this date ‘will be considered’, the Government said.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: ’Nothing can make up for the tragic loss of a loved one during this pandemic. We owe a huge debt to those who die in service to our nation and are doing everything we can to protect them.
‘Financial worries should be the last thing on the minds of their families so in recognition of these unprecedented circumstances we are expanding financial protection to NHS and social care workers delivering publicly funded care on the frontline.’
He added: ‘We will continue to strive night and day to provide them with the support and protection they need and deserve to keep them safe as they work tirelessly to save lives.’
However, chair of the Doctors’ Association UK Dr Rinesh Parmar said Mr Hancock had delivered a ‘political sound bite’ in place of a meaningful policy.
He said: ‘Matt Hancock delivered a further kick in the teeth to many grieving families of NHS and social care staff who have sadly died in the line of duty.
‘He was successful in delivering a political sound bite in place of a policy that would adequately safeguard the dependents who dedicated frontline staff leave behind.’
He added: ‘NHS and social care staff have displayed their unwavering commitment to patients despite concerns about their own safety and the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE). The scheme fails to appropriately recognise the dedication, selflessness and contribution of colleagues who have paid the ultimate price.’
Dr Parmar called on the health secretary to ‘reflect on his announcement’ and make a commitment towards the ‘ongoing’ support of the families of NHS workers who have died in service as the country observes a minute silence today in their honour.
The BMA added that the ‘long-overdue’ scheme may not go far enough but instead leave bereaved families facing longer-term financial difficulties, especially if their loved one was not a member or had recently joined the NHS pension scheme.
The BMA has been campaigning for death-in-service rights for locums for some time, last week writing to the Chancellor for a second time urging him to ensure that all NHS staff are granted full death-in-service benefits regardless of whether they are in the pension scheme.
BMA pensions committee chair Dr Vishal Sharma said: ‘Losing a loved one during these horrific times will be difficult enough for families, without the added pressure of losing what may be their main source of income, leaving them unsure of what the future holds.
‘Whilst this single payment may seem a sizeable sum, it comes nowhere near compensating families for the lifetime income their loved one may have earned if they hadn’t died prematurely, fighting this crisis on the frontline. This is particularly true for young or recently qualified staff.’
He added that bereaved families ‘should not also face a future without financial security’ and that the BMA ‘will be examining closely’ the details of the scheme.
The Government added that it will provide funding to devolved administrations to support similar schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are not covered by the scheme.
It said that Wales is implementing the same scheme while similar arrangements are being considered in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Scottish Government last week committed to provide all frontline NHS staff – including locums – who die with Covid-19 with ‘the full lump sum and survivor’s pension benefits available under the terms of the NHS pension scheme’, the BMA said.
Meanwhile, the number of GPs known to have tragically died from Covid-19 continues to rise.