Hundreds of doctors have said they are less likely to return to the frontline or increase their hours to fight Covid-19 because they fear their families will not be properly compensated if they die, the Guardian has learned.
Doctors who are no longer eligible for full death-in-service benefits have complained to the health secretary, Matt Hancock, that their families will be left not only grieving but in financial difficulty if they succumb to the virus.
Dozens have said the concern has stopped them from shifting their hours and working patterns to help in the NHS battle against the outbreak.
More than 350 respondents to a survey by the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK), a grassroots medics group, said loss of death-in-service benefits made them less likely to work in high-risk areas, increase their hours or return to service.
Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, an intensive care doctor who leads DAUK, said: “It is simply morally unforgivable that at this time where we ask them to put their lives on the line, those recently retired and returning to service, locum doctors and those forced out of the NHS pension scheme by a punitive tax are not eligible for death in service benefit.”
She stressed that retired doctors, senior consultants and senior locum GPs who are being asked to join the fight against Covid-19 were in a higher-risk group due to their age.
“These doctors feel a strong moral duty to do all they can to serve patients at this time of national crisis and deserve the same parity of esteem as their colleagues,” Batt-Rawden said. “We therefore ask Matt Hancock to ensure that all doctors receive death-in-service benefit. This will allow doctors to continue fighting this pandemic without the added stress of worrying about leaving their families in financial difficulty should they die in the line of duty.”
Last week the Department of Health and Social Care said it was “considering proposals to offer further support for those returning to the frontline”. It has been contacted for further comment.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a locum GP with three young children told the DAUK survey: “It is a very real worry and threat that healthcare workers could die as a direct result of working with positive Covid patients. We are all here to help our patients but, weighing up everything, it would be devastating for me to die and on top of that my family be in financial difficulty. This will almost certainly mean I will do less face to face work/less hours altogether.”
Another GP said they were booking in frontline shifts for only a week at a time. “No personal protective equipment plus no death in service plus lack of clear leadership/guidance here feels like freefall to me,” they said.
A locum GP with an 18-month-old child and no death-in-service benefit said they had decided to do only virtual consultations. “Part of me is guilty that I’m not putting myself out there, but I guess the realisation that she could be left with no mother and no financial security is just awful,” she said.