Confirming that 82 NHS and 16 social care workers had died so far during the outbreak, health secretary Matt Hancock announced the creation of a new life assurance scheme, funded by the taxpayer, which would support families.
Speaking about the decision, Hancock said he felt a “deep personal sense of duty that we must care for their loved ones.”
“Today, I am able to announce that the government is setting up a life assurance scheme for NHS and social care frontline colleagues,” he said.
“Families of staff who die from coronavirus in the course of their essential frontline work will receive a £60,000 payment.”
Hancock added: “Of course, nothing replaces the loss of a loved one but we want to do everything we can to support families who are dealing with this grief.”
How did nurses react to the announcement?
Responding to the news, Donna Kinnair – the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing – said the scheme would “bring reassurance to families in difficult situations.”
“No amount of cash can make up for a family member who has passed away,” she added, “but financial security should never add to the worries of those in grief.”
However, while many across social media have welcomed the move, others have expressed their distaste for the idea.
How has the public reacted to the £60,000 payment?
On Twitter, MP Ian Lavery wrote: “£60,000, seriously? For the life of a grandma, or granddad, a mother or father, a brother or a sister, a son or a daughter, an aunt or an uncle, a friend? A DEDICATED WORKER? SERIOUSLY?”
Another person added: “So now we know that the life of a key worker in the NHS is worth £60,000. What’s that compared to the minister’s salaries?”
And still one more said: “£60,000. That’s the value of an NHS or care worker’s life to this government. Wow.
“Think they’d rather their dead loved ones had been given PPE.”
Can £60,000 ever make up for a loss?
As so many have pointed out, no amount of money can make up for the loss of a loved one.
When I broached the subject of the scheme with one of my own family members – who is a frontline NHS worker – she tried to make a joke out of it.
“You all get £20,000 each if I die, then,” she said. Naturally, her gallows humour went down like a lead balloon as the rest of us struggled to contemplate a world without her in it.
Elsewhere, in an interview with The Guardian, Michael Tun – whose father Dr Peter Tun, a neuro rehabilitation specialist at the Royal Berkshire hospital in Reading died aged 62 after contracting coronavirus – said: “I would rather have my dad than the money”.
He added: “These new payments are welcome. And I’m sure they will help a lot of families. But they shouldn’t distract from the key issues around PPE, including the continuing shortages – real attention should be given to that – the distribution of it and how the guidelines are formed, followed and interpreted [by hospitals].
“There needs to be accountability over the guidelines. I would rather have my dad than the money, absolutely, 100%.”
On the subject of the money, many have, likewise, questioned how and why the figure of £60,000 was decided upon.
“A whole 60K? That’s not even two years of work for most NHS workers!” tweeted one person, in reaction to the news.
“What an absolute insult.”
Another, referring to the fact that NHS benefits include a ‘death in service’ scheme (which sees a lump sum payment may be made to an employee’s dependants), asked: “Is this extra payment to the death in service payment they would normally receive?”
And still one more said: “Cheap us nurses, aren’t we?”
Is this an admission of guilt?
Many on Twitter have suggested that this £60,000 payout is linked to the fact that the government – Hancock in particular – has repeatedly been challenged over whether frontline workers have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent them from contracting the disease.
“They want their loved ones to have the correct PPE, Matt,” tweeted one. “Not to be paid for their death.”
“An admission of guilt,” said another. “Money can’t replace a loved one who needlessly lost their life because the government didn’t manage the crisis with the urgency it should have.”
And still one more commented: “£60,000 to cover up the lack of duty of care? Unfeckingbelievable.”
Will the scheme be extended to other key workers?
Many have flagged that, as well as frontline NHS staff, there are countless others – including supermarket employees, teachers, rubbish disposal teams, carers, maintenance workers, and more – putting themselves at risk during the Covid-19 crisis in order to keep the country running.
“What about other important key workers that are too risking their lives everyday going into work?” tweeted one.
“Will my husband get £60,000 if I die whilst still working during the virus?!”
How did health worker union Unison react to the news?
Addressing the scheme directly, general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Until now, the relatives of any low-paid health worker who died and had opted out of the NHS pension scheme would have received nothing. Nor would the families of care workers on precarious contracts. Thankfully now that wrong has been put right.”
Prentis added: “Until their untimely deaths, all were looking after patients, saving lives, caring for the elderly and the vulnerable in our hospitals and care homes. Putting themselves in harm’s way, while most of us were safe at home.”