Nurses who work for private companies that provide care funded by the health service will be granted access to the NHS Pension Scheme under proposals announced today.
Ministers have accepted the recommendations of a review calling for widening access to the NHS pension to the private sector in an attempt to level the playing field between the NHS and independent sectors.
In October the government announced that any staff transferred out of the NHS to a private provider would be able to retain their membership of the pension.
However, the latest proposal goes a step further and allows independent providers to offer access to the NHS pension scheme for any of their staff “wholly or mainly” involved in delivering NHS funded care.
The new arrangements will be reviewed regularly, including after the first year and the fifth year to consider how the changes have impacted on the healthcare workforce.
Subject to the outcome of a consultation on the proposals, the new rules will be in place from 1 April 2014.
Health minister Dan Poulter said: “These proposals will save money which can be better spent on patient care, as well as benefitting employees who will continue to receive NHS pensions.”
He added that it would also support independent healthcare providers to “recruit and retain the highest quality professional staff”.
The Royal College of Nursing welcomed the proposals. RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter described them as “good news for healthcare staff”.
“The RCN has argued for some time that it is right for all nursing staff providing NHS-funded care to be eligible for the NHS pension scheme, and these proposals are a positive step towards that,” he added.
“We look forward to responding to the consultation and hope that these proposals become a reality.”
However, the move could provide a boost to independent providers as they seek to bid for NHS work as they would no longer have to compete with the taxpayer guaranteed NHS pension.
It means the NHS has lost one of its strongest competitive advantages over the independent sector, which faces significantly higher costs sourcing pensions on the open market.
Widening access to the NHS pension will increase the number of members paying into the scheme but will also mean the government acts as final guarantor for pensions held by privately employed individuals – albeit it those delivering taxpayer funded services.
Dr Poulter said: “Widening access to the NHS pension scheme could encourage more independent and voluntary sector providers to bid for public sector contracts.”
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