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Use retired nurses to help solve NHS workforce crisis, report urges

Next PM should bring nurses and GPs out of retirement to tackle NHS staff shortages, think tank says, but expert sees effect as marginal
Picture shows an older woman in a nurse's outfit

Next PM should bring nurses and GPs out of retirement to tackle NHS staff shortages, think tank says, but expert sees effect as marginal

Encouraging retired nurses back into work could go some way to addressing the current NHS workforce crisis, a report aimed at the next prime minister has suggested.

Think tank the Policy Exchange said this week that the government formed by the winner of the Conservative Party leadership contest, to be announced on 5 September, would need ‘several interventions’ on the NHS workforce to help improve the situation in the short term.

‘One proposal would be to launch a scheme to invite both retired GPs and nurses to come out of retirement to work in

Next PM should bring nurses and GPs out of retirement to tackle NHS staff shortages, think tank says, but expert sees effect as marginal

Picture shows an older woman in a nurse's outfit
Picture: iStock

Encouraging retired nurses back into work could go some way to addressing the current NHS workforce crisis, a report aimed at the next prime minister has suggested.

Think tank the Policy Exchange said this week that the government formed by the winner of the Conservative Party leadership contest, to be announced on 5 September, would need ‘several interventions’ on the NHS workforce to help improve the situation in the short term.

‘One proposal would be to launch a scheme to invite both retired GPs and nurses to come out of retirement to work in the NHS,’ the charity said in a report.

It hoped this would help reduce strain on the NHS, including stabilising primary care, at a time when staff shortages are rife. But workforce expert James Buchan, a visiting professor at the University of Edinburgh, said such a move would likely have only a marginal benefit.

‘We need to recognise that this effort is likely to have, at best, a marginal benefit. To address the 40,000 vacancies in NHS England will require other policies with a big impact,’ said professor Buchan, who is a Nursing Standard columnist.

Fall in nursing student intake this year ‘deserves much more concerted policy attention’ says workforce expert

A re-entry scheme would also require a revamp of NHS pension rules, with the Policy Exchange calling for a consistent national policy around pension rules associated with the so-called ‘retire and return’ option.

Currently, some members of the NHS pension scheme, including nurses with special class status, can retire at 55 without losing any pension. But if they return to work for the NHS, their pension may be docked if their new salary plus their NHS pension adds up to more than they were earning before they retired. This is known as abatement.

Abatement was suspended in England and Wales as part of the government’s coronavirus action plan to help retired nurses return to work in the NHS without a hit to their pension. The suspension is due to end in October.

Professor Buchan said any policy to increase the number of nurses working in the NHS was welcome but ‘we have to be clear why these nurses have retired before we can hope to attract any back’.

He said addressing the large shortfall of nurses in the NHS would require other policies with a ‘big impact’, and the issue of a fall in nursing student intake this year ‘deserves much more concerted policy attention’.

Figures published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) last week showed a 7% drop in the number of nursing students accepted onto university courses.

The NHS is also facing a retention challenge, with the number of nurses leaving the Nursing and Midwifery (NMC) register rising by 13% in the past year.


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