The families of any NHS and social care staff who died from covid in the most recent waves will not be eligible for the covid death assurance scheme launched at the start of the pandemic, it has emerged.
The scheme closed on 31 March, despite pleas from the Royal College of Nursing to keep it open. Since it was set up in April 2020, it has paid out £60,000 lump sums to the estates of 688 workers. A further 42 cases have been declined and 29 applications are still being processed.
The scheme has been notified of six deaths which occurred in the first three months of 2022 and families have until 31 March 2023 to make claims for any relatives who died before the 31 March 2022 cut off date.
The RCN wrote to then health and social care secretary Sajid Javid on 30 March, calling for the scheme to be extended. General secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen wrote: “The over-riding principle must be that no member of nursing staff who loses their life this year should be afforded any less respect and family support than one who died in 2020 or 2021…
“With a distinct possibility of new variants at any point, staff deserve assurance that they and their loved ones will not go unnoticed should they contract and ultimately lose their life to covid.”
Successive waves of omicron-related hospitalisations saw numbers in hospital with covid increase to nearly 19,000 in April – after the scheme had closed – and fall back only gradually, to under 1,000 in the last few days of July.
Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “For many families who lost loved ones while working through covid, the scheme has given significant financial help.
“But many relatives are still unaware they can claim, especially in the social care sector. There should be no let-up in efforts to reach and support them to make claims, nor in ensuring health and care staff continue to have effective infection prevention measures at work.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said the scheme was always intended to be time limited and closed at a point where the number of staff deaths had fallen sharply, with the rollout of the vaccination programme. It added the number of deaths the scheme had been notified of had been falling – from 521 in 2020 to 259 in 2021 and six in the first three months of 2022.
The scheme covered those working in NHS bodies, GPs and dentists doing NHS work, and those working in organisations providing NHS-funded services, including those employed by companies doing outsourced work. Many social care workers were also covered. However, claims relating to NHS managers and other administrative staff had to pass a situational test, showing they were in close proximity to covid patients.
The families of staff enrolled in the NHS pension scheme can still claim death-in-service benefits, which is a lump sum and pension benefits to eligible dependants. Although 90 per cent of NHS staff are in the scheme, many working for contractors will not be members and social care staff will not have access to it.