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Nurse outrage at pension plans


Nurses have expressed outrage at moves that would prevent them from retiring from their “physically exhausting” jobs until their late 60s.

Increasing the age at which NHS workers can draw their pensions is one of the central recommendations of the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission led by Lord Hutton, which has also called for an end to final salary pension schemes.

There’s no doubt that these proposed changes are another hammer blow to the morale of dedicated nurses

The report, published last week, said the “normal pension age” – the age at which workers can retire on a full pension – for public sector schemes should be brought into line with the state pension age. The government has previously announced that this will increase from 65 to 66 by 2026, to 67 by 2036 and to 68 by 2046.

The report said the change would provide “a way to manage any future expected increases in longevity”, ensuring public sector pensions were affordable in future.

But the proposal is seen as a step too far by many nurses, whose normal pension age has already increased from 55 to 65 for new entrants since 1994.

In a snap poll of more than 1,000 Nursing Times readers last week, respondents rejected the idea as “impractical”, grossly unfair” and an “absolute disgrace”. One said: “To expect nurses to work until 68 is outrageous, the job is physically exhausting.”

Many feared it would force nurses to work who were no longer able to carry out certain, more physically demanding tasks, such as performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

One reader said: “Having started nursing in the 80s when lifting and handling equipment was not available, I have now reached my 40s with a chronic lower back problem and will probably be unable to carry on until 60 or even further.”

Royal College of Nursing senior employment relations advisor Gerry O’Dwyer said many nurses were capable of working into their 60s. But he added: “Maybe [the proposals] will bring about a need to consider changes in the nature of roles and the need for more flexible employment.”

The Nursing Times survey found that raising the retirement age appeared to be a bigger issue for nurses than scrapping final salary schemes or raising employee contributions.

Asked which would make them most likely to look for non-NHS jobs, 37% said a raised retirement age, 31% said scrapping the final salary scheme and 17% said increasing employee contributions. Only 15% said none of those would tempt them to look elsewhere.

In place of the final salary, the Hutton report has also recommended introducing one based on workers’ career averages – although it says any accrued pensions benefits should be honoured.

The report says: “Final salary schemes unfairly benefit high flyers who can receive up to twice as much in pension payments per £100 of contributions.”

Lord Hutton’s interim report last October said this was because they disproportionately rewarded those who were rapidly promoted or enjoyed large pay hikes in their final years of work.

But three quarters of respondents to our survey were against such a move.

The proposals also make it likely nurses will be asked to contribute more to their pensions, while employers’ contributions remain capped at 14%.

The government stated in its most recent spending review that it wanted public sector staff to pay an extra 3% in order to raise an extra £2.8bn a year from 2012.

A decision on how the 3% will be spread across the public sector will be made this summer following discussions with unions.

Currently, NHS staff pay between 5.5% and 8.5% towards their pensions, depending on how much they earn. The vast majority of nurses in Nursing Times’ survey thought higher earners should pay more.

However, only 17% felt NHS employees as a whole should pay more towards their pensions, while 79% thought they should not.

The government is also consulting over plans to reduce the “discount rate” used to calculate the likely future value of pensions.

At the same time, the Cabinet Office is deciding whether to scrap the “fair deal”, which gives staff transferred outside of the health service access to NHS pensions. Lord Hutton’s interim report criticised the fair deal for penalising the private sector.

Unions have warned of a “summer of industrial action” against the proposals.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “On top of a pay freeze, and the threat of redundancy, they now face a pensions raid. This brings the threat of industrial action closer.”  

RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “There’s no doubt that these proposed changes are another hammer blow to the morale of dedicated nurses.”

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Readers' comments (21)

  • I qualified as a nurse in 1975 and am one of the lucky ones able to take my superannuation now. I am 56 with a chronic back problem the "nurses back" caused by lifting before mechanical aids availability. I still work in General Practice as a nurse practitioner and intend to carry on. My daughter also a nurse has been told she will have to work until 66+ she already has back problems at 33. Where is the respect for those who provide care for others? Can see no evidence in England - no wonder Australia is benefiting from our nurses. They respect their healthcare workers.

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  • Due to the fact that I now suffer from osteoarthritis in my neck, shoulders, back and knees,from 30 years NHS service, I have endeavoured to develope myself professionally so that I will be able to carry on working as a nurse and not be ward based but now find I am doubly penalised by the abolishment of Final Salary Award Schemes also. There is no incentive to work hard at all in today's NHS. It is not surprising that everyone is fed up, and that quality care is so severely affected.

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  • i for one will be opting out of the scheme
    they can shuve their extra contributions where the sun does not shine!!

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  • After 38 years of NHS service I was lucky enough to retire in 2009, with a surplus of back, neck and shoulder problems acquired in the days before lifting and moving legislation. I live with it. It's my legacy along with my pension. However, what Lord Hutton fails to acknowledge in his review is the manner in which public sector working ( NHS. Police, Fire Service) steals a "normal life" from you. Christmas Holidays, Easter Holidays, Bank Holidays, Weekend working, all which is an expectation and a given when you take on the role
    Yes we may have been compensated in our pay packets for doing so,( it makes no difference in the final analysis) but it does not compensate for the normal life you miss out on and the family life that passes you by while delivering a service that allows the general public to live their lives as they see fit.
    The crusade for this administration reminds me so much of 1984. For the miners read the public services in 2011.

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  • I am totally at a loss to understand why nurses are so outraged now. Do you not realise that your pension has ALREADY changed for new employees to an average salary scheme? Where were you when Unison was calling for action against these changes? It is too late now so you are griping about what has already happened. I have no sympathy with you, you quite simply got what you deserved by not taking action when asked. I have written many articles on this matter and I am sick and tired of listening to all the moaning while at the same time there is a total lack of willingness to fight for what you want, so you get what you deserve.

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  • The report says: “Final salary schemes unfairly benefit high flyers who can receive up to twice as much in pension payments per £100 of contributions.” I take it this is a criticism?

    It seems to be ok for big business to enjoy double bonuses supported for their destruction of the banking system and the harbingers of this recession for which we are all now paying, and as nurses we are being criticised by the same standards that support the Destroyers. Doesnt seem fair. I also will be working until later in life and i have my fair share of back, neck and shoulder problems which occurred before the 'dawn' of moving and handling legislation. I have worked hard in my 30 year career and i want what i deserve-a decent pension and not what the writer above has indicated which i find offensive. I did go on strike in the 80's, it didnt make much difference back then. I hope that the political, democratic and social processes now in place will make our voice (and our strike action) more effective.

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  • Anonymous | 15-Mar-2011 10:58 am

    Come out from behind your cloak of anonymity and point us all in the direction of your writings. We would all like to be enlightened with your views and writings.

    New starters in the NHS presumably know what they have signed upto in terms of future pension provision, but thats not the issue here is it? It's about those who have already paid in and accrued many years of pension rights.

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  • And Richmondmouse is identifiable because...?

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  • Anonymous | 15-Mar-2011 3:12 pm

    "And Richmondmouse is identifiable because...?"

    Do you really think a comment like this contributes to the seriousness of the debate? What is your problem?

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  • Anonymous | 15-Mar-2011 3:12 pm

    And Richmondmouse is identifiable because...?

    I have a profile name, therefore any comment or remark I make is attributable to me. I can therefore defend or debate any comment I make because you know who made it.

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