The NMC has no powers to automatically re-register retired nurses to enable them to return to full nursing duties in an escalation of the swine flu pandemic.
The NHS would need to ensure that retired nurses with expired registration had completed a return to practice course, lasting at least five days, or employ them in support roles, the NMC has said.
In a statement, the NMC said: ‘If a registered nurse or midwife is retired and not on the register, to work as a registered nurse or midwife they would need to complete a return to practice course. Should a nurse or midwife not wish to complete a return to practice course, they can work in a supportive capacity.’
This differs from the medical regulator, the General Medical Council, which has been granted special powers to automatically re-register retired doctors without a refresher course.
‘Unlike the GMC, who were given additional powers to re-register retired doctors in 2008, the Nursing and Midwifery Order 2001 does not allow us to bring retired nurses or midwives back on to the register in the event of a pandemic,’ the NMC said.
The regulator has sought to clarify its position on the issue following revelations that trusts have already been contacting recently retired staff in case they are needed to fill gaps in a potential escalation of the swine flu pandemic in the autumn.
Two south coast PCTs – NHS East Sussex Downs and Weald, and NHS Hastings and Rother – said they had jointly sent letters to 60 people who had retired in the past year, and received 10 agreements.
North Somerset PCT has 23 agreements from nursing and administrative staff who retired within the past two years, while Brent PCT in London has approached 55 retired staff from the past three years and has 15 agreements.
One acute trust, University Hospitals of Leicester, said it had identified around 90 clinicians, including nurses, who had retired up to two years ago.
However, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in London said it was not approaching retired staff. Some employees were being trained to take on other roles and, if necessary, it would close elective services and transfer staff to urgent work, the trust said.
The use of retired nurses in a serious flu pandemic was first mooted by government planners as far back as September 2007, as exclusively revealed by Nursing Times.