Death in Service  

Doctors union takes ombudsman to court

Doctors union takes ombudsman to court

The British Medical Association has applied to the High Court for permission to appeal a Pensions Ombudsman decision related to death in service benefits.

In a decision published in January, the Pensions Ombudsman rejected a complaint made by Mr N, concerning is wife, Dr N, who was a GP locum practitioner and member of the NHS Pension Scheme.

Dr N had worked as a freelance GP at various surgeries via Greenfields Medical Chambers during 2014 and throughout  December was based at one particular surgery. She made contributions to the scheme on December 23, 2014 before passing away the next day.

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Following her death Mr N was awarded a lump sum from the NHS Pension Scheme on the basis that Dr N had died in deferment.

But he complained about this saying he should have been awarded benefits on the basis that his wife died in pensionable employment.

Scheme rules state that breaks in GP locum work aren’t pensionable and death in service benefits can only be paid if the locum practitioner was in pensionable employment at the date of death.

Dr N died on a day she was not in work, meaning she was not in pensionable service.

The scheme trustees, the NHS Business Services Authority, rejected Mr N’s complaint, which he appealed.

He said that Christmas holidays were brief and Dr N was scheduled to work at the same GP surgery in January the following year, so he would have expected death benefits to be paid on the basis that Dr N had died whilst in pensionable employment.

He also said there was a difference between breaks in contracted locum work and breaks within a period of contracted work.

In December 2017, the case was referred to the Pensions Ombudsman, which did not uphold Mr N’s complaint.

Ombudsman Anthony Arter said: "I find that the definition of 'pensionable employment', that is, 'NHS employment in respect of which the member contributes to the scheme in accordance with this section', supports NHS BSA’s interpretation of 'engaged' in the definition of 'Locum Practitioner'.

"As neither LPs nor their employers pay any contributions to the scheme in respect of any time during which they are not working, I do not find that such time can be counted as pensionable employment."

Doctors union the BMA is now seeing clarity from the High Court on the exact meaning of ‘in pensionable employment’ as it applies to locum GPs who die in service.

Dr Krishan Aggarwal, sessional GPs sub-committee deputy chair at BMA, said: "Having pursued a claim for death in service benefits through the NHS Pensions internal disputes procedure and onto the Pensions Ombudsman, the BMA continues to challenge the application of rules on behalf of a widower of a former BMA member.

"Contracted GPs receive a full death in service benefit but if a locum GP was to work on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays but died on a Tuesday, NHS Pensions state they were not in pensionable service at that time and therefore are not eligible to receive the full benefit.