Nurses working in the private sector could be given access to the NHS Pension Scheme it has emerged.
A review into widening access to NHS pensions is expected to recommend all independent sector staff delivering NHS funded work could be allowed to join the scheme.
It would also make it much easier for nurses to choose to leave the NHS without fear of losing their pension benefits.
The change would remove a major competitive advantage for the NHS over private sector companies, which have struggled in the past to compete with the generous taxpayer subsidised NHS scheme.
Unions have welcomed the change, as it should give workers greater pension security and will also mean NHS trusts will have to compete with the private sector to give staff a decent working environment.
Royal College of Nursing head of employment relations Josie Irwin said the change would be “really good news and what we have all been arguing for”.
She said it would mean staff transferring to a private provider would have “security” and NHS providers “won’t be able to ride roughshod over their staff; they will need to provide a good working environment.
“This would improve mobility both out of and into the NHS,” she said.
A source close to the review group, which includes representatives from unions, NHS Employers, and the Department of Health, said there was a “coalition of the willing” to see the change brought in.
The move would apply to staff involved in clinical services delivered under an NHS contract. It would also include non-clinical staff working in a supporting role.
Private providers would pay the same 14% level of contributions as NHS organisations, with the taxpayer and employee contributing, using the system that applies for NHS employees.
Providers would need to buy an insurance or bond to safeguard pension contributions in the event they became insolvent. Mechanisms would also be needed to ensure against non-NHS staff benefitting from any change.
It is not clear whether the government would apply the new regulations to existing contracts or only to those signed after April 2013.
The review group is likely to reveal its recommendations in late September and they could be implemented as soon as April 2013 following parliamentary approval.
A source close to the review said: “We wouldn’t have got this far if the DH didn’t support [the proposal]. It achieves their aim of getting plurality in the market.
“It isn’t about weakening the NHS but about levelling the playing field,” they told Nursing Times. “It will take pensions out of the equation when it comes to the debate about private providers competing with the NHS.”
A DH spokeswoman said: “The review is due to report in the autumn, but we are clear that if access to the NHS pension scheme is extended to those in the independent sector only those who are providing NHS services and giving care to NHS patients would be eligible to join.
“This would be closely managed to maintain the integrity of the scheme,” she added.