Plans to extend NHS pension scheme changes to bring back retired staff for winter

NHS pension changes could be extended to allow retirees to keep their retirement benefits if they return to work, as part of plans to bolster staff numbers for winter.

The Department of Health and Social Care has launched a consultation on proposals to attract retired and partially retired NHS staff that would make it easier for them to return to work without having their pension benefits paused.

Measures were enabled in March 2020 following the first lockdown, with the consultation gathering views on whether this should continue until March 2023.

Steve Barclay MP, health and social care secretary, said: “The country is hugely thankful to all the retired staff who returned to support the NHS and the public during the pandemic. This winter will be challenging too and we are putting in place the necessary preparations to support the NHS while it continues to deliver first-rate care to patients.

“As part of this we are now consulting on extending temporary changes to the NHS pension scheme, which have so far allowed highly-skilled retired staff to return to the workforce without having their pension benefits affected.”

Government preparations for supporting the NHS this winter were recently set out in plans to address pressures on services and shortages in the workforce.

The consultation comes as data from NHS Digital revealed a million patients waiting over 12 hours for treatment in A&E between April last year and March this year.

The government has faced criticism for the delays in ambulance waiting times, including the secretary of state being confronted by a member of the public while visiting Moorfields Eye Hospital.

Commenting on changes proposed by the consultation, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “The NHS will need all of the help it can get this winter and so, we are pleased the government will be consulting on ways to provide support to the NHS’s workforce by encouraging recent and partial retirees back to the front line.”

Pledges from the government’s manifesto to support the NHS workforce, with plans to recruit 50,000 more nurses in the NHS by 2024, are “on track to deliver” and include a long-term workforce plan commissioned for NHS England.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has criticised the government’s workforce plans, suggesting that staff pay is a factor in shortages. The RCN’s head of nursing practice, Wendy Preston, said: “If the NHS is truly ‘taking every step possible’ to ensure they are prepared for additional pressure, they would be advocating for better pay for all nursing staff.”

“Our patients deserve better, and the latest pay award was the final insult. Ministers must change course urgently,” she added.

The consultation is set to run until 12 September.