Coronavirus response: scepticism at ministers’ plan to bring former clinicians out of retirement

Nurses voice concerns about how long it could take retired registrants to return to practice – and risks they’d face from exposure to COVID-19

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Questions are being raised over the prospect of retired nurses being deployed to shore up the UK's response to coronavirus.

The government confirmed emergency measures to try to contain the virus could include re-registration of retired healthcare professionals, although there is no detail yet.

NMC requirements for nurses returning to practice

Currently, former Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) registrants wishing to return to practice must meet several admission requirements, including: proof of practice hours, continuing professional development and indemnity. Usually, former nurses need to undergo a return to practice course, which can take up to 12 months.

An NMC spokesperson said the regulator is consulting the government about coronavirus plans.

Nurses’ misgivings about turning to former registrants to help combat coronavirus

Nurses are using social media to question how easily retired colleagues would find it to pass disclosure and barring service checks, secure occupational health clearance, re-gain registration, and become up-to-date with CPD.

Others have highlighted the risk of exposing older healthcare workers to risk of contracting COVID-19, which tends to be more dangerous for older people. 

The first major research study from China on the epidemiological characteristics of COVID-19 shows patients who were retired and aged over 60 had the highest fatality rate, at 5.1%.

Sheila Jones

Retired nurses like me would be put at risk from COVID-19

Sheila Jones, 66, retired last June from her job as a respiratory research nurse in Leicestershire.

She said elevated mortality risk from COVID-19 for people in the retired age group means deploying them does not make sense.

‘It feels like they have floated an idea to see what the reaction is to it, but it doesn’t feel very well thought through.

‘Can retired nurses go back to a caring role? And is there space for the nurses they are likely to need?’

Given the risks COVID-19 poses, Ms Jones would not want to return to front-line practice but would consider an advisory role.

She also questioned whether retired nurses would be paid or expected to volunteer, noting many had to take part-time jobs to top up their pensions.


Capacity for safe supervision of older nurses returning to practice

RCN director of nursing, policy and practice Susan Masters said retired nurses had ‘a wealth of knowledge and experience’ to draw on, but wonders whether senior staff would have time to supervise retired staff.

‘Any emergency legislation introducing such measures would need to be carefully scrutinised to ensure safety for patients and staff is the priority.’ 

A full government action plan is promised for later this week.

As of 9am today, there were 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK.

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