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Scottish Government guarantees locum death-in-service benefits during pandemic

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The Scottish Government has guaranteed death-in-service benefits for locum GPs during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, according to the BMA.

The BMA in Scotland said it was ‘delighted’ that progress has been made following a period of lobbying the Scottish Government ‘hard’ on the issue.

Meanwhile, no announcement has yet been made in England, despite repeated calls from the BMA including a second letter sent to the Chancellor today demanding that Westminster’s ‘procrastination’ over the issue ends. 

The Scottish Government has agreed that all frontline staff – including locums – who are affected by Covid-19 ‘will receive the full lump sum and survivor’s pension benefits available under the terms of the NHS pension scheme’, the BMA said.

BMA Scotland’s pensions lead Dr Alan Robertson said it was ‘a welcome step forward’ but that the BMA is still ‘awaiting the details’ to ensure the arrangements work ‘effectively’.

He said: ‘Based on the top-level details we are aware of, the Scottish Government certainly seems to be responding fully to the key asks made by the BMA and others.

‘We will now await the details, as this has to work effectively for the peace of mind of all NHS staff and their families.’

He added: ‘Of course, we very much hope that this extra protection will never be needed given the circumstances it would be required in – but it is an important measure nonetheless.’

According to a statement on the BMA’s website, a spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: ‘The health secretary recognises how important the death in service benefit is to NHS staff. 

‘That is why we have agreed with the principal health service unions, including the BMA, RCN and Unison, that all staff affected by Covid-19 as a result of providing frontline treatment for Covid-19 patients will receive the full lump sum and survivor’s pension benefits available under the terms of the NHS pension scheme.

They added: ‘This includes permanent and fixed-term staff who are not members of the pension scheme, NHS bank and NHS locum staff. This will ensure parity between colleagues and provide reassurance for staff in these unprecedented times.’

The BMA in England has been campaigning for death-in-service rights for locums for some time, including an unsuccessful high court challenge last year. 

It launched a renewed call for urgent action last month to ensure doctors fighting Covid-19 had ‘adequate’ cover, ‘if necessary under temporary emergency measures’.

However, BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse two weeks ago that he was expecting to hear about a similar arrangement in England within ‘days’ but was ‘yet to see the finalised details’.

He said: ‘It’s something that NHS England is planning [but] I don’t know when the details will be released. 

‘I think they’re basing it on a single-lead employer with locums given a zero-hours contract by which they would then – if they are part of the pension scheme – have access to death-in service-benefit.’

The BMA today announced that it has again written to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak to urge him to make a commitment in line with that of the Scottish Government – so that all NHS staff are granted full death-in-service benefits ‘regardless of whether they are a member of the NHS pension scheme or not’.

BMA pensions committee chair Dr Vishal Sharma said: ‘It is only right and proper that the Government offers full and adequate protection to doctors risking their lives for their patients.

‘The BMA has made clear since the start of the outbreak that the Government needs to give a simple guarantee to all healthcare workers – including those young and old who have answered the call to step up to the workforce during this time – that their families will be looked after should they die. The BMA demands that this procrastination ends now.’

He added: ‘We see Westminster politicians clapping every Thursday and commending the efforts of our frontline workers. While the public display is welcome, it’s time for the Government to back up their gestures with definitive action.”

BMA Cymru Wales said it has also written to health minister Vaughan Gething calling for the full protections today, while Pulse understands that the BMA in Northern Ireland has raised the issue with the Department of Health and is awaiting action from the Treasury.

Meanwhile, the number of GPs known to have tragically died from Covid-19 continues to rise.


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