Government plans NHS pension overhaul to ease pressures over winter

<span>Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Plans to overhaul NHS pension rules have been set out by the government in an attempt to retain more senior doctors in the health service.

Launching an eight-week consultation, ministers said the proposed changes would also remove barriers to retired clinicians returning to work.

They include new “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. Officials said it would allow staff to claim a portion or all of their pension benefits but continue working and contributing to their pension.

Ministers hope that by encouraging more staff to carry on working, pressures on the NHS over the coming winter will be eased.

It comes after NHS figures showed there were 10 times more people in hospital with flu in November than at this time last year. There were an average of 344 patients a day in hospitals in England with flu in mid-November, more than 10 times the number at the beginning of last December.

And as many as three in 10 patients arriving at hospitals by ambulance were waiting at least 30 minutes to be handed over to A&E teams.

About 22,883 delays of half an hour or longer were recorded across all hospital trusts in the week to 20 November, figures showed. That represents 29% of the 79,076 arrivals by ambulance. The proportion rose to 23% during winter 2021/22.

The health secretary, Steve Barclay, said: “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.”

During the start of the pandemic in 2020, scores of retired NHS doctors and nurses told the Guardian they were against returning to work to help deal with coronavirus. Many said it would threaten their physical and mental health.

The government had devised contingency plans to call back to work NHS “leavers and retirees” to help relieve pressure on the NHS workforce. But a majority of 120 former NHS employees who responded to a Guardian callout were resistant, and in some cases hostile, to the idea, with some saying they had suffered stress, bullying and burnout due to work.