Asking retirees back to support NHS ‘won’t solve staffing issue’

Government’s NHS Reserves programme to boost staff numbers during COVID-19 pandemic is short-sighted, warn nurse who came out of retirement in first wave and workforce expert

Government’s NHS Reserves programme to boost staff numbers during pandemic is short-sighted, warn nurse who came out of retirement in first wave and workforce expert

Picture: Alamy

Asking retired nurses to return to work to plug staffing gaps is short-sighted, a nurse who came out of retirement last year to help during the pandemic has said.

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid announced on Twitter a new NHS Reserve programme to allow hospitals to call on skilled staff, including retired nurses, at times of high demand. No further details are known yet.

Health service ‘running on goodwill’

But Ruth Price, who worked at Homerton University Hospital NHS Trust, told Nursing Standard that government plans to encourage retired nurses and other health professionals to volunteer to return to work rely on goodwill and won’t solve long-term workforce problems.

‘What will happen is they will get that reserves list going and they won’t bother filling all the permanent posts that need to be filled,’ Ms Price said. ‘The NHS is running on goodwill and I fear that’s running out.’

Coming out of retirement during the COVID-19 pandemic

Ms Price retired in March 2020 but returned to work 11 days later after seeing a message in a work WhatsApp group during the first wave of COVID-19 pleading for help from anyone who could spare the time.

She worked throughout the first and second waves, officially retiring again in summer 2021.

‘I had no plan to ever work another day,’ she told Nursing Standard. ‘I went back for humanitarian reasons, I went back for all the people I had worked with after seeing what they were suffering and for the patients, I didn’t go back for the government.’

Recruiting and retaining permanent staff is the long-term solution

Jim Buchan Picture: Tina Norris

University of Edinburgh visiting professor and Nursing Standard columnist James Buchan echoed the concerns, adding that retired nurses should not be used to help prop up the NHS.

‘The point here is reserves. These should be nurses willing to be called on for short-term urgent demands. They should not be used as longer-term shortage gap fillers,’ he said.

‘The sustainable solution is recruiting and retaining permanent staff who can ensure stability and quality of care.’

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed the NHS Reserves programme is a national extension of a scheme piloted at the start of the pandemic to encourage retired healthcare professionals to support the NHS during COVID-19.

They were unable to confirm any more details about the programme, including what will be expected of retired nurses, how many hours they might work, or how they can volunteer.

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