Action to bolster NHS workforce and retain senior doctors

Health Secretary Steve Barclay visits King's College Hospital. Picture by Lauren Hurley / Department of Health and Social Care

Plans set out to amend NHS pension rules to retain more experienced NHS clinicians and remove barriers to staff returning from retirement.

All NHS staff, including senior doctors, will benefit from proposed plans to fix pension rules, supporting them to remain in work for longer and boosting the workforce as the NHS continues to take action to tackle the Covid backlogs.

Building on actions set out in Our Plan for Patients in September, the government has today launched a consultation on changes to the NHS Pension Scheme, to retain experienced NHS clinicians and remove the barriers to staff returning from retirement, such as the 20,000 former NHS staff who returned to support the NHS at the height of the pandemic.

The proposals include introducing flexibilities to allow retired and partially retired staff to return to work or increase their working hours without having payments to  their pension reduced or suspended. This will allow staff to claim a portion or all of their pension benefits but continue working and contributing to their pension.

The proposals also fix the unintended impacts of inflation, so senior clinicians aren’t taxed more than is necessary. These measures will enable skilled and experienced staff to continue to contribute to the NHS up to and beyond retirement age.

This means more clinicians to provide appointments, ease winter pressures and deliver care to patients, as well the retention of crucial knowledge and experience to ensure patients are receiving first class care.

Health and Social Secretary, Steve Barclay, said:

The generous NHS Pension Scheme is one of the best in the country, but it’s not working as it should for everyone.
We need a system where our most experienced clinicians don’t feel they have to reduce their workload or take early retirement because of financial worries. I also want to make it easier for staff that want to return to work to support the NHS to be able to do so without penalties.
These proposed changes will help open up extra appointments so patients can see their GP and consultants more quickly. With record numbers of doctors and nurses working in the NHS alongside record funding, I’m focused on giving people the security of knowing the NHS will be there for them when they need it.

The consultation will be open for 8 weeks and reforms are expected to be implemented in late spring 2023.  Major reforms being proposed include:

  • A new partial retirement option to support older staff who want to work more flexibly and enable them to access part of their pension whilst continuing to contribute to their pension pot. This would allow NHS staff to partially retire, or for those that have retired to return to the workforce, to either claim all or a portion of their pension but continue working and building more pension benefits. Staff will be able to work more flexibly up to and beyond retirement age
  • Removing limits on hours recently retired staff can work giving them control over the hours they work in the first calendar month after returning. This is a barrier for retired staff considering returning to the NHS which will be removed, helping increase capacity.
  • Allowing retired staff to re-join the pension scheme making returning to work in the NHS more attractive by ensuring senior clinicians and NHS staff can continue to contribute to their pensions from their NHS work
  • Fixing the interaction between the pension tax system and inflation to ensure senior clinicians have more headroom against the £40,000 pension tax annual allowance. This means senior doctors are either less likely to receive a tax charge, or will receive a smaller tax charge, reducing the likelihood of early retirement
  • Allowing staff working in Primary Care Networks (PCNs), such as GPs and general practice staff, to access the NHS Pension Scheme. Previously they have had to apply for time-limited access on an ad-hoc basis. These proposals will mean they can potentially benefit.

Minister of Health, Will Quince, said:

The changes we are proposing to the NHS Pension Scheme will offer senior clinicians more flexibility and control over how and when they work, putting the decision about their career directly in their hands.
As a result, experienced, senior staff will no longer feel forced to retire early, ultimately benefiting patients by ensuring their expertise remains in the NHS for longer so we can continue to deliver world-class healthcare.”

The plans form part of the government’s commitment to build a stronger health service for the long term and follows the Autumn Statement announcement of up to £8 billion for health and social care in 2024/25. This is on top of previous record funding, and plans to publish a comprehensive workforce plan – due next year – alongside delivering 50,000 more nurses by 2024.

There are over 34,170 more doctors and over 44,820 more nurses working in the NHS since 2010 – a record number of staff. This is as well as 4,000 new trainee doctors accepting GP training placements – hitting the government’s target for GP specialty trainee recruitment for the fifth year running.

With more than 21,000 more primary care staff supporting patients – including nurses and pharmacists – since September 2019 the government is on track to meet its target of 26,000 additional staff by March 2024.


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