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'Is enough being done to prepare NHS nurses for retirement?'

David T Johnson
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From my own experience, I do not feel that the NHS nurses are prepared enough for retirement.

I started working in the NHS as a student nurse in 1961 at the age of 18. Immediately I started paying superannuation, even though at the time I thought it was a waste of money. 18 years old and paying for my occupational pension – that was the last thing I wanted to think about.

My father who was a businessman said I must pay into the scheme. You did not argue with a man like him. At the age of 65 I was so pleased that I had listened to my father and paid into it scheme.

Throughout my whole nursing career I had the most wonderful mentors. Without them I would not have climbed the professional ladder like I did.

I did my mental health training (RMN) first, on completion I staffed on an acute male admission ward. My mentor was a fantastic charge nurse. Together we marked out a career plan.

Within six months I started my SRN training at the local hospital.

“At the age of 65, I left the NHS and this was where my troubles started”

My mentor was a female ward sister, who also taught at the school of nursing. Together we planned my whole nursing career. I ended that career in a role I had held for many years and enjoyed immensely. It was as a clinical nurse manager for elderly care.

At the age of 65, I left the NHS and this was where my troubles started. A month before retirement, I went on a one-day “Knowing Retirement Course”. This course informed staff about our finances, what we would get weekly/monthly and what our lump sum would be on leaving the profession. It also told us where we could get discount cards to use in shops, restaurants and at social events and a reduction in purchases for working for in the NHS.

Those attending the course were not only nurses, they were everyone working in the hospital and were due for retirement.

It also told us how we could invest of money, particularly the lump sum we were going to get on retirement.

During the break, the group got together to discuss our plans for retirement. The lady from the laundry was going to visit her sister in Australia, the porter was going to see his son in America and a ward sister was going to open a small care home. And me, I had no plans at all.

The last Friday in the hospital was manic, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. A visitor collapsed on the unit and a patient’s relative came to visit his mother drunk and his ex-wife was also visiting and they had a row. 

At 4:30pm I left the unit holding a bottle of champagne and a book token. I was told my P45 would be posted to me.

Monday morning arrived, I woke at 6am the same time as if I were working. This happened for almost two weeks. My partner was still working, so I had the house to myself. Over lunch I got thinking about the future and into my head came these words “on Friday I was wanted, Monday no one wants you”.

The retirement course I attended did not cover your mental state when you finish work. I was not depressed but was anxious as to what was going to happen to me, when I had all that time on my hands and no interests outside the hospital.

Some people can cope extremely well not working but I couldn’t. I tried doing the garden but I did not have any interest in it.

My partner and I were comfortably off. His business was successful and I had a good pension with money in the bank. The house did not take much cleaning, so I had a lot of time on my hands. My friends were all working.

One day my partner had left for work and I had breakfast in front of the television at 7:30am. At 10:30am I was still watching daytime television. At that point I realised I had to go and find a part-time job.

“Part-time positions gave me the confidence to carry on working”

After a few weeks I got a job as a phlebotomist in the GP surgery for two days a week. It was a zero-hours contract. This suited the doctors and it certainly suited me.

Since my retirement I have worked in three of the best GP surgeries in Brighton and Hove.

These part-time positions gave me the confidence to carry on working and now at the age of 75 and cannot see myself giving up work.

I see several of my ex-colleagues and friends, and some ask “Why do you keep working?” Some say they wish they could get a small job like the one I have, and others just think I am mad still working at my age.

It is not everyones cup of tea. Had I been told there would have been some emptiness in my life, I could have prepared for it.

I have never been so happy working part-time, and I have time to spend with my partner.

I look at it this way, Life is too short to worry about having time on your hands, but I do wish they had covered this subject on the retirement course.

David T Johnson is a former RMN SRN

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