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Locum GPs must have same death in service benefits as other doctors, say LMCs

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l1331 (Published 21 March 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l1331
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. The BMJ

The BMA’s General Practitioners Committee must actively seek changes to the NHS pension scheme to make it fairer for all GPs, local medical committees (LMCs) have urged.

On 20 March the annual LMC conference in Belfast unanimously called for sessional GPs to have the same death in service benefits as the rest of the GP workforce.

The NHS pension scheme provides a lump sum and pension benefits to a doctor’s dependants in the event of his or her death.1 However, some locum GPs are not eligible for this benefit.2

Speaking at the conference, Andrew Parkin, a locum GP from Kent LMC, said that despite many benefits to being a sessional GP, such as a predictable workload, the death in service benefit rules were a major disadvantage.

“I know that on Friday I am going to see 16 patients in the morning, 16 in the afternoon, and not have any extras or visits and get home to see my children,” said Parkin. “If the deluge of Med 3 [forms] and secondary care requests cause me to have an aneurysm at my desk on Friday I know that my wife will get my pension.

“However, if on my way home tonight I fall into the baggage reclaim area and get mangled she will get nothing, unless she wheels me in to work and props me up at the desk. I think this is a scandal and locums should have the same death in service benefits as all other doctors.”

David Bailey, GP and BMA Cymru Wales council chair, said that the BMA had already made an appeal about the issue to the Pensions Ombudsman, an independent organisation that investigates complaints about pension administration.

He added, “It’s an absolute scandal. It’s totally immoral that locum doctors can, depending entirely on the time of their death, either leave their families destitute or get their pensions passed to their families.”

LMCs also called on the General Practitioners Committee to actively seek changes to the pension scheme to help retain older GPs. Proposing the motion, Ian Morris, of Devon LMC, said that his accountant had told him about GPs who had had to remortgage their home to pay unexpected pension tax bills.

“We all know that pension problems are a major factor in GPs . . . dropping their hours [and] retiring early, and it doesn’t really help recruitment either,” said Morris.

Bailey warned that changes to the annual allowance—a threshold that restricts how much a doctor’s pension can grow by each year before tax charges apply—were going to cause a “tsunami” in the number of GPs of all ages reducing their working hours over the next few years.

“This is not particularly about retaining the elderly like me—it’s actually going to affect pretty much everyone over the age of 40,” he said. “A whole load of you are going to be taking advice from your accountants over the next couple of years to reduce your sessions: otherwise, you’re going to have a massive tax bill.”

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