Changes to the NHS pension scheme could be extended to allow retired staff to keep their retirement benefits if they return to work.
A newly launched consultation will look into the possible extension of rules that have been temporarily changed by coronavirus laws so that staff can exit retirement or increase their work commitments without pension payments being suspended.
The measures, introduced in March 2020 to encourage recent and partial retirees to return to the forefront of the pandemic, are currently slated to run until October 31.
Health chiefs said the consultation will ask the public and stakeholders if the changes should be extended to March 31, 2023 ahead of a “tough” winter as the NHS faces Covid-related arrears, staffing problems and more people who they come forward for checks.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which includes NHS employers, said, “The NHS will need all the help it can get this winter and so we are delighted that the government will consult on ways to provide supporting the NHS workforce by encouraging recent and partial retirees to return to the forefront.
This winter will also be challenging and we are making the necessary preparations to support the NHS as it continues to provide first-rate care to patients. As part of this, we are now consulting on the extension of temporary changes to the NHS pension scheme, which have so far enabled highly skilled retired staff to return to work without their retirement benefits impacting.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay
“This is not the only action needed to respond to the growing demand for health services, but leaders hope it will help.”
Patricia Marquis, Director of the Royal College of Nursing for England, said: “We have always been clear that nursing staff who have come out of retirement during the pandemic should not be penalized by seeing their pensions affected.
“This nursing workforce, however, needs more than short-term solutions to address a long-term crisis that has left tens of thousands of job vacancies.”
She said that as waiting lists rise and hospital beds run out, “the mere return of retired staff will not cut it” as the pay level is forcing many nurses to “consider whether they can afford to stay in the profession.” .
Health and Welfare Secretary Steve Barclay said, The country is extremely grateful to all retired staff who have returned to support the NHS and the public during the pandemic.
“This winter will also be challenging and we are making the necessary preparations to support the NHS as it continues to provide first-rate patient care.
“As part of this, we are now consulting on extending temporary changes to the NHS pension scheme, which have so far enabled highly skilled retired staff to return to work without their retirement benefits impacting.”
The consultation will last until 12 September.
The Department of Health and Welfare said the government is on track to deliver on its program commitment to have 50,000 more nurses by 2024, with 29,000 more nurses already.
NHS England was also tasked with developing a long-term workforce plan to recruit and support staff while providing safe, high-quality care to patients.
Preparations for the winter include upgrading NHS 111 and 999 support, with at least 4,800 employees working in 111 call centers and 2,500 in 999 call centers to meet high demand and using innovations such as virtual departments to create the equivalent of at least 7,000 extra beds.
Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said, With record-breaking waiting lists and emergency care in crisis, it is imperative that the NHS retain as many staff as possible.
“Everyone who has returned from retirement to help fight the pandemic is still needed and must be able to stay.”
He added: “The work will put an end to the absurdity of doctors’ pension rules that force them to retire early rather than remain in the NHS.”