Nurses are being asked for evidence of the impact of working into their late 60s, as part of a major review that could have implications for early retirement opportunities for some in the profession.
The Public Service Pensions Act 2013, passed in April, linked NHS retirement to the new state pension, meaning the retirement age will increase to 66 by 2020, 67 by 2036 and 68 by 2046.
As part of the agreement to the change, unions negotiated a commitment from the government to review the impact on NHS employees of working longer.
The Working Longer Review Group, which includes representatives from the unions, the Department of Health and NHS Employers, has been meeting since the autumn and this week launched a call for evidence.
The group is seeking views on topics including what makes it easier or more difficult for healthcare staff to work longer and the impact of flexible working policies. It is also exploring whether employers could be required to make increased pension contributions for groups of staff in particularly demanding roles – allowing them to retire early without having a reduced pension.
In light of this, the group is seeking evidence on which parts of the workforce faced particular challenges in working longer.
Unison head of nursing Gail Adams told Nursing Times it was important for nurses, healthcare staff, as there was a lack of NHS specific evidence on the effects of working longer.
She said: “This is a warts and all call for evidence to find out what is happening out there and what employers are doing to help people work longer.”
A literature review by academics at the University of Bath, commissioned by the review group, concluded that healthy older people with up-to-date skills “perform as well as their younger counterparts”.
However, it found many NHS employees left the service before pensionable age to work for other employers that offered more flexible hours. It warned this could lead to staff shortages if the trend continued as the workforce aged.
Shift working was a major driver of people choosing to work outside the NHS, the report said, with individuals preferring to work fewer hours over a “down shift” to roles with fewer responsibilities.
It suggested phased retirement, with more opportunities for flexible working could be a solution, and that a more preventative approach to musculo-skeletal and mental health problems could reduce their prevalence in older workers.
Royal College of Nursing senior employment relations adviser Gerry O’Dwyer told Nursing Times his “biggest anxiety” was whether the NHS had the capacity to ensure the necessary changes to job design and work patterns happened in time.
He added: “The NHS has very little experience of people working beyond 60, never mind up to 66, 67 or 68.”
The call for evidence runs until 5 September. Findings will be fed into the final report of the Working Longer Review, which will make recommendations to NHS Staff Council and the DH.
Gill Bellord, director of employment relations and reward at NHS Employers, said it was important the call for evidence collected the views of as many different groups as possible.
“It is really important that employment practice enables staff to work successfully and productively at all ages”.
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