Death in service rules branded ‘absurd’ after Widower loses appeal in High Court

A High Court Judge has rejected an appeal by a Widower and the British Medical Association (BMA) over the denial of death-in-service benefits, after a locum GP died on her day off.

Speaking after the ruling, a BMA spokesperson called the current rules on death-in-service benefit rules absurd, adding that it is clearly unfair for the family of a GP to be denied the full benefits simply because the doctor was on holiday on the day she died.

The locum GP, Dr Helen Anderson, was only 40 when she died suddenly in December 2014. Dr Anderson had worked as a salaried GP until April that year but switched to locum work to spend more time with her family.

When she was denied the death-in-service benefits, her widower Carl Sanderson appealed the decision and was backed by the BMA. In his claim, Mr Sanderson argued that his family should be entitled to the full benefits because his wife was booked in for 28 future locum sessions and was a member of the NHS pension scheme, so was ‘engaged’ under a contract for services.

The judge ruled that a locum is not engaged under a relevant contract for services “simply because he or she has one or more bookings for sessions at some stage in the future”.

However, the ruling does make clear that doctors are entitled to the full benefit in the event of death while travelling to work, commuting between practices or taking breaks, rather than solely during the session they were contracted to work.

The BMA has pledged to appeal the ruling so that locum GPs have the peace of mind that their families will get the support they are entitled to should the worst happen.