EXCLUSIVE: surge in NHS staff applying to retire

The number of NHS staff applying for retirement has surged by 25% over the past four years, Nursing Standard can reveal.

The number of NHS staff applying for retirement has surged by 25% over the past four years, Nursing Standard can reveal.

Workforce experts and nursing leaders have spoken out about their fears for the NHS after learning that almost 65,850 staff began the retirement process in 2015-16.

More nurses have been handing in their retirement notice than ever before.

This number has jumped from just over 53,000 in 2012-13 and increased by 3,000 from the previous year. While the figures from NHS Pensions do not provide a breakdown of the professions applying, nursing is the largest element of the workforce.

More than one third (37%) of nurses and midwives are over 50 years old. The large number of nurses approaching retirement has long caused concern that an exodus of experienced staff will add further pressure to the overstretched workforce.

Unison head of health Christina McAnea called for action to prevent much needed nurses leaving. ‘Nurses are choosing to take early retirement rather than run themselves into the ground trying to look after more patients with fewer resources,’ she told Nursing Standard.

‘But with staffing shortages at crisis levels, the NHS cannot risk losing any more experienced members of staff. The government must act now. Ministers could end the pay cap and scrap plans to remove the student bursary.’

Scale of challenge

Research from the Institute for Employment Studies in July 2016 revealed the scale of the workforce challenge, with one in three nurses due to retire in the next ten years and a lack of UK-trained nurses to fill the gap.

The report showed the NHS is heavily reliant on nurses from European Union countries such as Spain, Portugal and Ireland, but their future is uncertain in the wake of the Brexit vote.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies warned last July that the nursing shortage crisis was caused by ‘years of cuts to student nurse commissions and a lack of long-term workforce planning’.

Staff associate at the Institute for Global Health and Development at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, James Buchan said employers should be assessing the age demographic of their workforce.

He said they should consider options including flexible retirement to encourage nurses approaching retirement to stay in the profession longer and share their experience and knowledge.

‘There are areas of the profession with older age profiles, most noticeably those in the community and care homes, where the impact of retirement will hit first and biggest,’ he said.

‘There are a range of local and national policies in relation to what can be done to retain more mature nurses, but they are stalling the inevitable day when they will retire, so we have to look carefully at the replacement challenge and how that can best be done.’

RCN senior employment relations adviser Gerry O’Dwyer said one explanation for the surge in retirement applications could be that a number of doctors with large pensions may be choosing to retire due to a change in tax law, which has cut the amount that can be saved with tax relief.

Editorial: Retirement crisis warnings becoming reality


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