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Government plans to extend nurses’ pension abatement until March

Changes to help retired nurses work during the pandemic are now part of government plans to tackle NHS winter pressures, but critics say it is short-term fix

Changes to help retired nurses work during the pandemic are now part of government plans to tackle NHS winter pressures, but critics say it is short-term fix

Temporary changes to the NHS pension scheme making it easier for retired nurses to return to work look set be extended to help the health service cope with winter pressures.

However, nursing and financial experts warn this is a short-term fix that fails to address severe staffing shortages.

Move is part of efforts to prepare for a 'challenging' winter

The government is consulting on

Changes to help retired nurses work during the pandemic are now part of government plans to tackle NHS winter pressures, but critics say it is short-term fix

Changes to help retired nurses to work in the pandemic are now part of the plan for a challenging winter in the NHS, but critics say it is a short-term fix
Picture: iStock

Temporary changes to the NHS pension scheme making it easier for retired nurses to return to work look set be extended to help the health service cope with winter pressures.

However, nursing and financial experts warn this is a short-term fix that fails to address severe staffing shortages.

Move is part of efforts to prepare for a 'challenging' winter

The government is consulting on plans to further extend a temporary suspension of NHS pension abatement rules in England and Wales until March next year.

This means nurses who came out of retirement to work during the pandemic, or those thinking of coming back, will avoid taking a hit to their pensions.

Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said the move is part of efforts to prepare for a ‘challenging’ winter in the NHS.

But the RCN says much more needs to be done to address widespread nursing vacancies amid the current cost of living crisis.

Abatement rules suspended as part of pandemic response

RCN director for England Patricia Marquis said: ‘We have always been clear that nursing staff who came out of retirement during the pandemic should not be penalised by seeing their pensions affected.

‘This nursing workforce does, however, need more than short-term fixes to address a long-term crisis that has left tens of thousands of vacant nursing posts.’

Abatement rules and some other restrictions were suspended in March 2020 to enable retired and partially retired staff to return to work – or increase their work commitments – without their pension benefits being affected.

These temporary measures were due to end in March this year, but were extended to October when it became clear COVID-19 was still having a significant effect on staffing levels.

A new consultation – which runs until 1 September – now proposes the changes should carry on to 31 March 2023. The extension would apply to the NHS Pension Scheme covering England and Wales.

Permanent end to abatement rules would lead to greater staff retention

NHS pensions expert Graham Crossley from financial management firm Quilter, agrees that the temporary extension does not go far enough.

‘Another short-term extension only leads to worry and uncertainty for NHS staff,’ he said.

‘Government needs to see sense and permanently end the abatement rules which will lead to more staff being retained in the NHS, more income tax receipts for government, and might even encourage other staff to return from retirement to help tackle the backlog.’

Analysis by Quilter suggests nearly 7,500 nurses and doctors working for the NHS could be at risk of a financial penalty on their pension once the temporary measures come to an end and could leave the health service as a result.

Temporary suspensions of abatement rules are also in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Scottish Government said next steps on their pension abatement rules would be set out soon. Northern Ireland’s Department of Health has confirmed it will be consulting on a similar extension to the abatement suspension, as in England and Wales.


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