A High Court appeals judge has rejected an appeal from Carl Sanderson, widower of GP locum Dr Helen Sanderson, that the NHS Pension scheme should have paid out death-in-service benefits.
Helen was working as a self-employed locum through her local locum chambers, regularly contributing to the NHS Pension 'GP Locum' scheme. But on Christmas Eve 2014, at the age of 40, having worked as a locum the day before, at the beginning of a two week break from work, Helen died.
Since then, Carl has been fighting his case, supported by the BMA, against the NHS Pension Scheme and Pension Ombudsman, arguing that despite being on a break for two weeks, Helen had work booked within the next few weeks with a practice for whom she was obliged to work for and contribute to the NHS Scheme.
As reported in this week's edition of the FT Adviser, a weekly publication from the Financial Times, the ombudsman said "...although it appeared that she was engaged in a regular pattern of work at the time of her death, she was self-employed and because she died on a day when she was in-between working, the small print of the NHS Pension Scheme meant she was not in pensionable employment at the time of her death."
For a GP partner, or a salaried GP pensioning their income as a Type 2 Practitioner in the NHS Scheme, a far more generous death-in-service benefit would have applied, since the individual is deemed as being in pensionable income 24/7. Where as for a GP locum in the NHS Pension Scheme, the full benefits may only apply if they die at work.
FT Adviser also goes on to say that '[High Court] Judge Justice Trower said: “In the present case, I do not consider that it is possible to say that Dr Sanderson was still engaged under a contract for services at the time of her death."'
This latest ruling no doubt underlines NHS Pension's intransigence in taking any steps to change its current death-in-service rules that so unfairly affect the financial well being of a GP locum's grieving family. This will also be a major blow to the BMA's campaign to create a level playing field for all GPs in the scheme, and so far the BMA has not commented on this case.
All of this is even more galling since the revelation earlier this year that if a GP locum takes a single, one day break from work, all their NHS Pension contributions will be fully annualised.
The NASGP's approach to this is a more pragmatic one; in essence, death-in-service cover is a form of life insurance cover that pays out, on death, to those nominated in the policy. Although this means in reality paying more, a simple life assurance policy is relatively cheap, it's perhaps the best option GP locums currently have to offset the lack of adequate death-in-service cover from their existing NHS Pension schemes. As always, we recommend speaking to an independent specialist medical financial advisor.