• BMA, RCN, Unison and Unite call for more comprehensive death in service cover for NHS staff
  • Unions want it to apply to all healthcare workers during covid-19 pandemic
  • Government says it is evaluating existing support

Several trade unions have urged the government to enhance death in service cover for all NHS staff who are tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, Unison and Unite are among those who have begun pushing for broader measures during the covid-19 crisis.

The NHS pension scheme grants cover to active members who die in service by providing financial support to their partners and other dependents, often with a lump sum based on their pensionable pay.

However, how much is awarded varies, and those who have recently retired or are deferred members receive much less under current guidelines. It also depends on whether somebody is part of the 1995, 2008 or 2015 schemes

In a letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak, BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul called for workers’ dependents to receive full death in service entitlements, irrespective of scheme membership.

He said: “In addition, to ensure our medical students, junior colleagues and lower-paid NHS staff’s families receive a fair entitlement, we believe there should also be a minimum amount payable if an NHS worker sadly dies in service.”

Dr Nagpaul added the BMA wants the Treasury to grant an automatic extension to enhanced death in service cover for all NHS workers during the pandemic.

Helen Whyley, RCN executive director for trade union issues, said returning NHS nurses are concerned they will not be afforded the same life cover as their colleagues in the pension scheme should they die in service.

She added: “We are clear that, whether or not staff belong to the NHS pension scheme, families must be fully and fairly compensated in the event their loved one dies while in service to the nation’s health.

“We expect the government to act quickly to ensure this is the case.”

A Unite spokesman told HSJ: “Unite has ongoing concerns about the death in service provisions for NHS workers, many of whom are on the front-line in the coronavirus crisis.

“Unite believes there must be an automatic extension to enhanced death in service cover for all frontline NHS staff.”

He also highlighted the issues faced by those who have opted out, returnees who were in the 1995 section and new joiners who have been in the service for less than two years.

Sara Gorton, Unison’s head of health, said it is a “sad truth” that more health workers are likely to die during this pandemic and added: “Many staff in the lowest pay bands have not joined the NHS pension scheme, meaning they miss out on death in service protections. This oversight must be addressed by extending the scheme to all health workers.

“The health service needs to pull out all the stops to support staff and their families at this time of national emergency.”

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer told HSJ that the body proposed this step to the government “some weeks ago”, which he says has significant support from NHS organisations nationwide.

He added: “Ten per cent of our workforce are not members of the pension scheme, and [both] they and their families deserve the reassurance that provision of this benefit during the outbreak would begin.”

The government has eased pensions rules for certain retirees returning to work, including legislation around reduced pensions payments, but there have been calls for further measures to be introduced.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “The death of any NHS worker is a tragedy and we are evaluating the existing financial support for families of those on the front-line.”

UPDATED, 18.42: This article has been updated to include a statement from Unison

UPDATED, 08.35: This article has been updated to include a statement from NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer