Of the 104 brave men and women – some quitting retirement to answer the NHS’s plea for help – 95 worked for the NHS, and nine in care homes. Their awe-inspiring work in the face of cruel Covid-19 was summed up by the heartbreaking death of auxiliary nurse Margaret Tapley, 84.
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She was determined to keep working at Witney Community Hospital, in Oxfordshire, and loved-ones said: “She gave her life and dedicated it to the NHS”.
Now the Daily Express is backing a call by leading MPs for a ‘Coronavirus Compensation Scheme’ for NHS workers who die in their proud nation’s service.
We are also calling for a national monument to be built to honour the sacrifice of our health heroes.
Backing our campaign, leading UK cancer expert Professor Karol Sikora told us: “This would be a superb gesture.
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“It is not just doctors and nurses who are tragically suffering in the frontline but everyone in the NHS. Their sacrifices should all be recognised.”
So far 50 MPs have backed the call with a letter to the Prime Minister drafted by Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran – while 8,000 people have signed a Change.org petition.
The MPs’ letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson says: “Those on the frontline of this battle against coronavirus are heroes.”
Lib Dem Layla Moran said: “Our gratitude to all those on the frontline, who are working to save and help others, is limitless. They are putting their lives on the line and they should know that, should the worst happen, the state will help their families.
“That’s why, while no money could ever compensate for any loss of life, setting up a Coronavirus Compensation Scheme would provide security and comfort for those risking their lives.
“I wrote to the Prime Minister with the support of 50 cross-party MPs at the end of March, when the first doctor had died. The numbers now are devastating and that’s not to mention carers, bus drivers and other frontline workers. It’s time for the Government to take notice and introduce this compassionate Compensation Scheme without delay.”
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Just some of the NHS doctors, nurses and staff who gave their lives fighting coronavirus
The NHS pension scheme currently 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.
The campaign is demanding grieving families receive compensation akin to that paid to Armed Forces personnel who die on active service, topping up their pension pay-out.
The proposed new scheme would hekp victim’s families out with a lump sum, a guaranteed income for their family, child payments and contributions towards funeral costs.
Former Tory Minister Sir Mike Penning, one of the MPs who has joined the campaign, told us: “In exceptional times, exceptional people are stepping forward at great risk in this war.
“It is only right NHS staff are treated in the same way as our Armed Forces when they step onto the frontline.”
The MP for Hemel Hempstead, a former Army paramedic, stressed how retired doctors and nurses are showing “great compassion” by returning to duty.
Sir Mike added: “Whatever we can do to make the lives of NHS workers and their families more comfortable at this tragic time the better.”
The British Medical Association, the RCN, Unison and Unite have also pushed for ramped up death-in-service benefits.
Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), wrote a letter to the Prime Minister today pressing the issue and told us: “The families of those who have died in service deserve reassurance that the UK government is supporting them at this difficult time.
“I am deeply concerned there is yet any announcement on this issue, particularly as some families will be facing financial difficulty as well as the loss of their loved one.
“These benefits need to be from the start of the pandemic, and apply to all health and care staff.
“This must include those who have bravely returned to service, and all students who join the fight against the pandemic.”
BMA pensions committee chair Dr Vishal Sharma said: “Given the trepidation that many doctors and healthcare workers face as they take significant risks on the frontline each day to care for patients, it is only right that they should have these assurances.”
Dr Rinesh Parmar, Chair of the Doctors’ Association UK said: “We welcome the Daily Express campaign to support the families of dedicated healthcare workers who have tragically lost their lives whilst trying to look after us all.
“It is morally unacceptable that we ask healthcare workers to put their lives on the line and simultaneously deny their families death in service benefit if the worst were to happen and they were to succumb to coronavirus in the line of duty.”
Unite have previously raised “ongoing concerns about the death in service provisions for NHS workers on the front-line in the coronavirus crisis.”
They added: “Unite believes there must be an automatic extension to enhanced death in service cover for all frontline NHS staff.”
While Sara Gorton, Unison’s head of health, said: “The health service needs to pull out all the stops to support staff and their families at this time of national emergency.”
A new RCN survey, conducted over the Easter weekend, shows half of nurses have felt pressure to work without adequate PPE.
This includes those working in the most high-risk environments, such as areas where patients with COVID-19 are being ventilated.
Susan Masters, RCN’s Director of Nursing, Policy and Practice, said: “For any nurse to lose their life is a tragedy.
“To lose it when battling to save their patients from Covid-19 is doubly so.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said of the call for increased coronavirus death benefits: “The death of any NHS worker is a tragedy.
“We are evaluating the existing financial support for families of those on the front-line.”
* To sign MP Layla Moran’s petition, go to: https://www.change.org/p/uk-government-coronavirus-compensation-scheme