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'In their late sixties, how will nurses keep up with the demands of the job?'

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8 December, 2011

The debate about whether the country can afford to pay public sector pensions will, I’m sure, continue to rage long after the current dispute is resolved. And I doubt some sections of the media will ever stop referring to them as ‘gold-plated’.

But I’d like to take a step back from the politics, and look at the practicalities. So let’s try to disregard the fact that people are being asked to work longer and pay more in order to receive less (go on - I know it’s hard, but do try).

There are some basic issues that make the ever-rising retirement age simply unworkable for a huge proportion of public sector workers – and nurses in particular.

As they work on into their mid and late sixties, how are nurses expected to keep up with the demands of the job? They can have access to hoists, sliding boards and other equipment to move patients, but even so, many other aspects of the job make it hard physical work.

Will there be a division of labour so younger nurses take on the heavy work and older ones are given light duties? I can see that playing out well on the wards.

And while ageing doesn’t have to equate with ill health, I’m only too aware myself that it is associated with a certain amount of unavoidable physical decline. A lot of it is manageable if irritating if you’re deskbound – the aching knee means you don’t bother going out at lunchtime, and I sometimes think a reduction in my hearing ability wouldn’t be all bad when a colleague bellows across the office while I’m trying to proofread.

But I’m lucky, my job doesn’t require me to walk miles a day, and hearing loss would mean I’d only miss out on an unwanted opinion rather than a plea for help from a frail patient. Working until 68 is unlikely to cause me much physical damage – although I’d probably benefit from having someone responsible for finding my glasses every time I leave them on a printer or someone else’s desk.

I suspect the working conditions of those who make decisions about how long people can be expected to continue nursing are more like mine than they are like yours.

Maybe Mr Osborne should spend a week working as a healthcare assistant. After all, you’re expected to ensure patients can make informed decisions, so surely politicians should be enabled to do so too?

Readers' comments (30)

  • With regards to that last paragraph: hear, hear!

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  • John Howes

    I retired in June this year at the age of 66. I was working in a large Critical Care Unit. I had reduced my hours after returning from the USA where I was working in a 24 bed SICU (Surgical Intensive Care Unit). My decision to go part time was to some extent to allow me more time to play Golf. It was not the physical or the Academic side of nursing that began to press on me. It was more the idea that my last years in the profession, at the bedside would be memorable. As a result of increased Trade Union activism I became acutely aware of the decline in standards, more so on the wards than in my own department. Much of my discontent came from the slick verbal performances of managers who appear to have developed a lingua franca about patient care that dismisses concern as a form of ignorance of the broader issues. Any attempts to raise concerns were usually suppressed, often subtly other times brutally less so. When Chief Execs are silenced, as in Lincoln then there is little chance that the lower echelons will be heard, if you have spent most or all of your adult life in nursing then those 60+ year olds still in practice recognise that whatever they had learned over the years was progressively less welcome. It's not age that stops most of the 60 +'s who still practice it's attitude!

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  • with all due respect to older nurses of which I would have been one had I not given up in my mid-50s, is that we, and older colleagues I have observed in the workplace are physically (and sometimes mentally as well) too slow on hectic acute medical and other acute wards to keep up with the pace of work compared to younger team members, find it harder to grasp some of the complex changes and new hi tech quickly enough (especially when it goes wrong and there is nobody else around to ask for assistance) and find it more difficult to recuperate between very late followed by very early shifts, and readjusting between long night shifts and day shifts when there is not enough time off in between for one's personal body clock to readjust such as finishing in the morning of a series of nights and then be expected to start on an early shift the following morning! the heavy lifting, sometimes alone of very heavy patients with or without mechanical aids can also be highly problematic.

    Once in a new job, when I asked for help from other staff on the same shift with a transfer of a heavy and immobile patient, I was told I could do it on my one. When I said I did not wish to injure my back I was told by my boss that all the nursing staff had bad backs (despite them all having been on a recent course where they were trained to mobilise heavy patients on their own)! we soon parted company after this as I wished to remain fit so as to be able to look after and enjoy my house and garden in retirement! At this time I was also recovering from an accident where I had been on crutches for three months and still had a very swollen ankle by midday and was severely reprimanded for not running fast enough on the stairs to answer an alarm bell to which everybody else had run at the same time and which turned out to be a false alarm. At that point my GP who also had patients at the clinic and had heard rumours about me extended my sick/accident leave until I got the sack for a prolonged absence and not being accepted by the team! That in my mid-50s was sadly my last job but at least I am still fit enough to attend to my garden and other physical activities.

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  • Further to my above comment, where there is no allowance for editing or additions, I just wonder how cost effective it will be allowing nurses to work on the wards for so much longer and whether, in the long run any money will be saved from paying their pensions at a much later stage. I do not wish to criticise older nurses with their long and highly valuable experience and the excellent standard of care they are able to provide (possibly at a slower pace which is not a negative for their patients as they probably pay more attention to detail as well) but I have the feeling that quality and safety (to nursing staff as well as patients) are of little concern to the government.

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  • I suspect the g'ment are expecting that many nurses will retire before they reach their late 60s due to the demands of the job and concern of their own longevity. This is turn would mean fewer staff reaching their maximum pension potential, thus leading to less pension payouts - a double wammy!!Young nurses, think on, you will become the older nurses one day. You need to think about what it will mean for you in the future. Good luck, I don't envy you.

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  • tinkerbell

    Anonymous | 10-Dec-2011 0:24 am

    Exactly! Some of the ageing workforce will be older than the elderly patients they are caring for, and the younger nurses will be trying to support both their patients and their ageing colleagues. They are going to get worn out even sooner. What a joke.

    Those nurses who retire sooner will have to make the choice between looking after themselves or collapsing on the job. Talk about flogging a dead horse. I know the choice i will make if i can. I wish i still had the bounce back i had 10 years ago but as we get older the wear and tear kicks in, the daily repetitive strain injuries from moving and handling takes its toll on backs, knees, shoulders and neck. Some of our staff have had surgery for knees, shoulders etc., as have been doing elderly care longer than I and some are younger than me.

    I have only worked in elderly care for the past 7 years, previously working with young adults, but sometimes feel the demands of the manual labour involved every day leaves me totally knackered on my days off. It's not something that happens overnight but a slow, progressive onset from the daily grind. In an effort to help myself i am reducing my hours next april otherwise i am going to be too tired and knackered to enjoy any days off, retirement or end up on an elderly ward as a patient myself. Working an office job until 65 does not compare to working full on as a nurse on the frontline until 65 or more, same for firemen, paramedics and every other manual labour job in the public sector. Come on tory bods, do just one week in hands on nursing, experience it for yourselves and see if you relish the idea of working until 65 or longer but as you don't really care about the NHS anyway its all pretty academic.

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  • I have just been compulsory retired on the grounds of age- 67 years. I am fit- healthy- very active- had a lower sick record than my colleagues and was hard working. I enjoyed my work. One should be given the choice- if you are fit and professionally capable, why not work, but i admit that it is not for everyone. Leave the choice to the individual, although I accept that managers would prefer not to employ mature staff as they tend to be vocal as they have been there and done that.

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  • I see an increase in retirement on the grounds of ill health and a detrimental effect on morale as people will not want to move out of their senior positions before retirement. It really will be dead men's shoes.

    There are a finite amount of jobs, what is the point of older people staying in work when younger ones can't even get jobs. Benefits of pensions - they all use public money.

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  • What a terrible article by Ann Shuttleworth. Has the Nursing Profession now become ageist? Seems you would advocate "putting down" nurses who reach 65, or is it 60, or 50. Perhaps everyone should retire at 29, thus not becoming a middle aged nurse!

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  • I don't think Nursing is ageist - with the increase of the retirement age these things need to be discussed. I PERSONALLY CANNOT BEAR THE THOUGHT OF WORKING INTO MY 60'S! I agree that people should be given the choice but I also think that this increase in the retirement age will mean fewer jobs and opportunities for the younger workforce.

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  • how will nurses who choose, or are forced, to retire before their retirement date finance themselves until they receive their pension?

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  • Anonymous | 11-Dec-2011 10:12 am, when were you told you had to retire?
    This was abolished on 1st October this year having been phased out since April. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15127835
    In my department we have a nurse who will be 70 next year (she thinks she will call it a day then) and has had knee replacement surgery, works part time in a busy ED.


    Anonymous | 9-Dec-2011 12:38 pm
    I am 56 next year ( I registered when I was 50) and want to carry on for at least 10 years, I work in a busy ED and I am perfectly capable of matching my younger colleagues physically and my mental faculties are as good as they have ever been. Don't forget Winston Churchill was 66 when he became Prime Minister in 1940, and 77 when he started his second term of office. Eva Luckes was Matron of the Royal London Hospital until she died aged 64.

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  • Anonymous | 9-Dec-2011 12:38 pm

    good on you, but you cannot generalise. some sadly age faster than others and this can be also due to degenerative disorders. it also depends on the area you work in and attitudes of employers and those you work with. individual differences must also be tolerated.

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  • George Kuchanny

    I found the comments more informative than usual - I had my owen opinoin to express (65 - zoom! out to air ballooning hill walking and carpentry) but I must admit I shall now have a long rethink. My guess is it a very individual thing after all. Very dependant on your own wellbeing in the end.

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  • George Kuchanny

    Apologies, my typing is rubbish this evening. I meant 'own opinion' not owen opinoin.

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  • In my mid fifties working on a 30 bed acute medical ward on my feet all day my knees and back and brain aches. Personally I could not do this job at 66. Good luck to you if you are fit and well but as previously stated we are all different as you know from the patients we care for. Some nursing roles are more demanding than others. I am not ageist but I wish to retire at 60 like the nurses before me whilst I am still in one piece. At 66 I will be of no use to my patients or my workmates.

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  • I reckon when you feel ready to retire, it's pretty dependent on a variety of factors as others have already said.

    The Equality Act 2010 has made the situation easier for those who wish to continue. The problem lies in the enforced increase in retirement age. Also just word to the nurse who registered at the age of 50. Firstly, good on you and I hope you enjoy a long and happy career. I am 5 years younger than you and have been in Nursing since I became a student at the age of 18. So I've been doing this job for 33 years. I am generally healthy and have looked after myself over the years. However, it is a long time to be doing such a physical job (it was much tougher physically for many years, until moving and handling was radically over-hauled), and the attrition rate amongst my contemporaries is high. I myself have the inevitable aches and pains from the 'wear and tear'. I remain nimble enough physically and mentally, but I will not still be doing this for another 16 years. It's too much to ask of us.

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  • Hello All, well I will be retiring at 55 having been in the field since I was 18 years old including my training.
    I have 4 years left to go and I am absolutly worn out by it all. If people want to retire at the last possible moment that is there choice.
    I want to spend some of my pension and live some of my life if I end up a pauper so be it.
    I am do not want to retire at the age of 67 only to be in such ill health I don't enjoy life or drop dead within the year having recieved any of my hard won pension

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  • Having 'sacrificed' my lumbar spine to the NHS 15 years ago, I had to train up to a less physical - more cerebral job in order to stay in nursing at all.

    It took a while but now a Senior Nurse Practitioner in an Urgent Care Centre and using my brain rather then brawn to provide care to patients - could continue in this sort of non-physical work till the age of 67 and beyond if my sanity holds out!

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  • I'm glad to be fit, healthy and active at 49, and still enjoy my job on a very busy ward, however, I will be retiring in my middle 50's as I want to stop before I am knackered! I started at 19 years old, and have enjoyed my career, but, like everyone else, I don't like the politics or the way things regarding staffing and standards of care are going, particularly in regards to reducing the ratio of RN's to HCA's.

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