Sessional GPs need to check their NHS benefits carefully and think about how to protect themselves in areas where they’re vulnerable.
Are you a sessional GP? If so, make it a belated new year’s resolution to give yourself a financial health check – NHS benefits for sessional GPs do not always offer the same level of security as GP principals enjoy. In which case, you may need to seek professional advice on how to put yourself in a stronger position.
Sessional GPs, or type 2 medical practitioners, include salaried or assistant GPs working in a practice but not as a partner or principal, as well as fee-based GPs not contracted to a practice such as out-of-hours GPs and locums. Some sessional GPs fall into both categories – for example, they may work as a salaried GP in one practice while also performing locum work elsewhere.
Check your sickness benefits
It’s crucial that sessional GPs understand what benefits they’re entitled to in the event they can’t work because of sickness or ill-health. If you don’t know your position, the reality may come as a nasty shock at a time when you need help.
The detail of salaried GPs’ sick pay benefits should be set out clearly in their contracts of employment, so check this carefully; in some cases, the benefits on offer are less generous than those available to hospital doctors.
Locum GPs don’t have any entitlement to sick pay at all – if they can’t work because of ill-health, they can’t make a claim for sick pay. This leaves them vulnerable to financial difficulty if they have no savings to fall back on.
Check your life cover
Sessional GPs who are active members of the NHS Pension Scheme are entitled to death-in-service benefits that protect their loved ones in the event they pass away. The benefits include a lump sum payment (the way this is calculated depends on the section of the scheme you belong to), plus, potentially, survivors’ and dependants’ benefits payable as regular income.
By contrast, locum GPs don’t necessarily qualify for death-in-service benefits, which only cover you while you’re an active member of the NHS Pension Scheme. So, for example, if you are contracted to locum for a practice between, say, Monday and Friday, this is the period for which you’re an active member; so if you were to pass away on the Wednesday, death-in-service benefits would be payable, but not if you died on the Saturday after the scheduled work is ended, though your family may still be eligible for other, more limited types of support. This is a complex area and if you feel you could be affected by this, you should check your current position.
Check your pension
Both salaried GPs and locums are entitled to join the NHS Pension Scheme, where they are working directly for the practice and not through an agency or other party,
If you’re a salaried GP, your practice manager should calculate the pension contributions to be deducted from your salary according to the value of your pensionable pay from the practice and any other income you earn as a GP, including locum work. You must provide the practice manager with details of this additional income and you can’t opt out of the NHS Pension Scheme for this element of your work. Either all your GP income is pensionable, or none of it is if you opt out.
If you’re a locum GP, you’re entitled to be a member of the NHS Pension Scheme – with employers’ contributions paid by the practice – during periods when you’re contracted for work. You do this by completing and submitting Forms A and B to your NHS Pension Scheme Employing Authority (the forms are available online).
Neither salaried GPs nor locums have to be members of the NHS Pension Scheme. The former must inform their employer if they wish to opt out – remember that you must opt out completely, rather than only for any locum work you do – while the latter simply stop submitting Forms A and B. If you are planning to opt out of the NHS Pension Scheme it is strongly recommended you take professional advice first.
Deferred members of the NHS Pension Scheme aren’t entitled to death-in-service benefits. Their deferred pension entitlement is increased annually in line with the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measure of inflation. They also continue to qualify for ill-health retirement pensions assuming they meet the relevant qualifying criteria. Ensure you read the rules around this carefully, as once you’ve been deferred for more than 12 months your entitlement is not as beneficial as an active member.
Having reviewed your sickness benefits, death-in-service eligibility and pension scheme position, you may need to consider purchasing additional protection. That might include, for example, protection policies such as critical illness or permanent health insurance, which pay out when people can’t work due to an accident or ill-health; life insurance, meanwhile, may be an important way to protect your family; also consider supplementing your NHS Pension Scheme benefits with contributions to private arrangements such as personal or stakeholder pensions.
It makes sense to take independent financial advice on your position. Sessional GPs’ needs can be complex, given the interplay between their NHS benefits and what’s available elsewhere, so professional advice on the best approach can be really valuable.
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Content correct at time of writing and is intended for general information only and should not be construed as advice.