The widower of a GP who claimed he was a victim of sexual discrimination is considering an appeal after he lost his landmark legal case against the Department of Health.
Former Royal Marine Iain Cockburn said that the payment he received from his late wife Clare Boothroyd’s pension was £3,200 a year less than a woman would get in the same circumstances.
His case was backed by lawyers from the British Medical Association (BMA), which was given permission for a High Court judicial review of widowers’ pensions last October.
The Department of Health admitted Mr Cockburn, from Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, would receive more money if he was a widow but said the difference was “objectively and reasonably justified”.
Giving his judgement Mr Justice Supperstone agreed with the Department of Health and ruled the claim had failed.
Mr Cockburn said he was feeling “depressed” after the decision.
He said: “The reason I’m so depressed is because the barrister for the NHS without saying it in so many words said ‘well, yes, we are doing it wrong but it will cost too much to fix’. Otherwise why would they say it’s going to cost them £1 billion to put it right.
“As said by an MP, the fire service have sorted it out, the MPs have, why can’t the NHS. We need a level playing field.”
Mr Cockburn agreed to be a test case for the BMA after his wife died of cancer in February 2007, aged 48. She had qualified as a doctor in 1982, with no career breaks and had paid into her pension for 24 years.
The more generous deal for widows was justified by the Department of Health because of the disadvantaged economic position women held due to child care responsibilities and their historically lower earning potential.
Ms Boothroyd’s parents, from Stratford-upon-Avon, also expressed their disappointment at the judgement.
Her mother Dinah Boothroyd, aged 77, said an outstanding achievement award handed out each year by the Midland branch of the Royal College of General Practitioners had helped them deal with her death.
She said: “Claire expressed a wish before she died that she had only one regret and that was that she hadn’t got her fellowship. We tried to find out if we could get a fellowship awarded posthumously and went through the appropriate channels but were told that it would be an act in Parliament to change the legal system to do this.
“But they asked if we would be happy to accept an award in her name and we said that was super because it meant her memory was carried on.
“Claire never had children so she was absolutely devoted to her patients. Everybody said she was an exceedingly good doctor, not just on the medical side but all round, she campaigned for better conditions in practices and all sorts of things so we were pleased.”
The BMA is considering an appeal on Mr Cockburn’s behalf.
Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of council at the BMA, said: “It’s unfair that female members of the NHS pension scheme do not have the same rights as men.
“We’re disappointed that this sexual discrimination couldn’t be stopped in the High Court, but we will continue to fight for fair pensions for all doctors.”