NHS pension scheme changes could be extended to allow retired staff to keep their retirement benefits if they return to the workforce.
A newly launched consultation will look at possibly extending rules that were temporarily changed under coronavirus laws so staff could come out of retirement or increase their working commitments without having their pension benefits payments suspended.
The measures, which were introduced in March 2020 to encourage recent and partial retirees back to the frontline in the pandemic, are currently set to run until October 31.
Health bosses said the consultation will ask the public and stakeholders about whether the changes should be extended to March 31 2023 ahead of a “challenging” winter as the NHS faces Covid-related backlogs, staffing issues and more people coming forward for checks.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which includes NHS Employers, said: “The NHS will need all of the help it can get this winter and so we are pleased the Government will be consulting on ways to provide support to the NHS’s workforce by encouraging recent and partial retirees back to the frontline.
“This is not the only action that is needed to respond to the rising demand for healthcare services but leaders hope it will help.”
Patricia Marquis, the Royal College of Nursing’s director for England, said: “We have always been clear that nursing staff that came out of retirement during the pandemic should not be penalised by seeing their pensions affected.
“This nursing workforce does, however, need more than short-term fixes to address a long-term crisis that has left tens of thousands of vacant nursing posts.”
She said that as waiting lists soar and hospital beds run out, “simply bringing back retired staff will not cut it” as the level of pay is forcing many nurses to “consider if they can afford to stay in the profession”.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “The country is hugely thankful to all the retired staff who returned to support the NHS and the public during the pandemic.
“This winter will be challenging too and we are putting in place the necessary preparations to support the NHS while it continues to deliver first-rate care to patients.
“As part of this, we are now consulting on extending temporary changes to the NHS pension scheme, which have so far allowed highly skilled retired staff to return to the workforce without having their pension benefits affected.”
The consultation will run until September 12.
The Department of Health and Social Care said the Government is on track to deliver on its manifesto commitment to have 50,000 more nurses by 2024, with 29,000 more nurses already.
NHS England has also been commissioned to develop a long-term workforce plan to recruit and support staff while they deliver high quality, safe care to patients.
Winter preparations include boosting NHS 111 and 999 support, with at least 4,800 staff working in 111 and 2,500 in 999 call centres to meet high demand, and using innovations like virtual wards to create the equivalent of at least 7,000 more beds.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “With record long waiting lists and emergency care in crisis, it is vital that the NHS keeps as many staff as possible.
“All those that came back from retirement to help fight the pandemic are still needed and must be allowed to stay.”
He added: “Labour will end the absurdity of doctors’ pension rules that force them to retire early rather than stay in the NHS.”