The NHS & Social Care Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme, set up in April 2020, provides £60,000 to the families of health and social care staff who die after contracting Covid.
As of 3 August, 542 payments have been approved under the scheme, despite 1,561 health and social care workers losing their lives while saving others during the pandemic.
The shortfall was revealed in answer to a written parliamentary question tabled by Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who successfully campaigned for the establishment of the scheme in recognition of the risks taken by NHS staff to protect the country.
Ms Moran has called for the government to do more to ensure bereaved families are aware of the scheme and the entitlements to compensation.
“The bereaved families of NHS heroes have already had to bear so much and the burden should not be on them to seek out the support they are entitled to,” she said.
“The government must ensure the scheme is more clearly signposted so bereaved families know they can apply for compensation.”
As of 3 August 2021, 624 claims had been made in England, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said. Those that haven’t been approved yet are still being processed and assessed. Ten claims have dismissed as they did not meet the eligibility criteria for payment.
DHSC and NHS England have been reaching to out trusts and hospitals whose staff have passed away, encouraging them to work with families to make a claim.
Labour said it has been calling on the government to improve the scheme “for months”. Justin Madders, a shadow health minister, said: “The government urgently need to fix the scheme and ensure more families can access it. It’s the very least they deserve.”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it was “shocked to discover more families aren’t being paid money to which they are entitled”.
Matthew Barker, interim deputy director of nursing, policy and public affairs at the RCN, said: We and other health unions lobbied for and supported the introduction of these schemes because some nursing staff people have paid with their lives.
“We will continue to push ministers to make sure every family of a nursing professional who experienced the heartbreak of losing a loved one to Covid-19 knows what they are entitled to and is given what they are owed.”
The scheme is set to stay in place while the Coronavirus Act 2020, passed in order to grant the government emergency powers to deal with Covid-19, remains in effect.
A DHSC spokesperson said NHS and social care staff had so “sacrificed so much to protect us against this disease,” adding that “we are working closely with employers and using targeted communications to raise awareness of the [Life Assurance] scheme and ensure all eligible families can benefit from it.”
The campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice said it was important that the loved ones of deceased NHS were being supported.
“But just as importantly bereavement services need additional support, steps need to be taken to ensure the promised inquiry is started as soon as possible and not kicked into the long grass as so many fear,” added Hannah Brady, a spokesperson for the group.