Career advice

Gearing up for more older nurses

Changes to the NHS pension scheme are starting to present challenges for employers.

The usual NHS pension age is now the same as the state pension age, which means that up to 70% of current scheme members have a pension age between 65 and 68.

St Helens Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) chief nurse Sarah O’Brien says her organisation is acutely aware that many practice nurses locally are nearing retirement age in the next five to ten years.

She says: ‘These concerns are recognised by Health Education England and by the Local Workforce and Education Group. The CCG is keen to retain its highly skilled practice nurses for as long as possible.

‘Following consultation with local nurses, GPs and others, we have developed a three-year primary care nursing strategy, to maintain and develop high standards in primary care nursing and to retain and recruit practice nurses.’

More than 5% of RCN members are aged over 60. RCN employment relations adviser Nicola Lee says there is still poor understanding among employers of how the pension changes will affect staff.

The NHS Working Longer Group (WLG), made up of NHS unions, employers and health department representatives, is reviewing the implications of a workforce with a later retirement age.

Employers can assist older staff by:

Adapting appraisal processes.

Training line managers to manage an older workforce.

Improving pension awareness.

Providing health and wellbeing support.

Providing retire and return policies.

An audit of existing research by the WLG found that the average age of NHS staff was 43.7, projected to become 47 by 2023. More than half of the NHS workforce is already aged over 40, and one third are over 50. The average age at which NHS staff choose to retire is 62.

The WLG submitted preliminary findings and recommendations of a fact finding exercise in a report to the health departments in March 2014. Four main themes emerged:

Data about staff working arrangements, age and its effects on working lives is collected by different organisations for different reasons, so is difficult to interpret across the NHS.

Further work needs to be done to help members understand the pension scheme and the flexibilities available to them.

More work needs to be done on breaking down barriers that prevent greater movement of staff across trusts and geographical areas.

Recommendations about good practice in occupational health, safety and wellbeing need to be taken forward in the context of an ageing workforce.

Health sector workforce expert James Buchan, based at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, said: ‘It has been evident over the past ten years that the nursing workforce is ageing, with the oldest being in NHS community and the nursing home sectors.

‘Changing the retirement age will accelerate this age profile in the longer term, but the challenge of managing an older workforce should come as no surprise to employers.’

Mary Cook (pictured), started work at Walton Hospital, Liverpool, in 1968. Now aged 71, she has been working in a nursing home in Merseyside since 2013.

Picture credit: Neil O’Connor

‘I worked as a bank nurse for the home from 2008 then joined as staff two years ago,’ says Ms Cook. ‘I have never had any concerns about my physical health while working, but if I had, my employer would accommodate me. Using hoists and other lifting aids have been helpful while looking after residents. Younger nurses should gain experience in hospital, and then nursing homes may be an option later as it is possibly more flexible.

My Nursing and Midwifery Council registration is due for renewal this year and I will most likely renew – I have always cared for others, enjoy keeping active and love my work.’

Professor Buchan says some organisations are age-proofing their employment policies to ensure they retain and motivate mature and experienced nurses.

He adds: ‘As nursing shortages become more pronounced, employers who accommodate older nurses will be more successful in an increasingly competitive labour market’.

Further information

NHS Employers Working Longer Group

RCN guidance: Who will care? Protecting employment for older nurses

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