More than four in 10 nurses who retired two years ago were working for the NHS again a year later, new analysis has found.
According to NHS workforce data, 4,600 of 10,300 (44%) registered nurses who retired between July 2021 and June 2022 had rejoined the health service within 12 months. This represented a 4% in returning numbers from the previous year.
The increase follows an extension to pension rule changes first brought in during 2020 that mean certain health workers retiring at 55 can return to the NHS without any impact on their pension, even if they work full time.
Since 1 April 2023, those workers have also had the option of rejoining the pension scheme and building their fund further. In addition, NHS England has made it mandatory for NHS organisations to offer staff flexible working options in every role.
The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan published earlier this year said those two factors, along with better opportunities for career development, could mean up to 130,000 staff stay working in the NHS longer over the next 15 years.
Since 1 October 2023, a new ‘partial retirement’ option has been available to staff as an alternative to full retirement.
Under this arrangement, staff can draw down some or all of their pension while continuing to work and build up further pension funds, subject to a reduction in pensionable pay.
Dame Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said it was ‘fantastic’ that thousands of retired NHS nurses were returning to work.
‘I would encourage any retired NHS staff to consider coming back,’ she added. ‘There has never been a better time to do so.’
The figures show that across the wider NHS, the retire and return rate was 37% over the last year, with 12,800 out of 34,500 workers who retired in the 12 months up to June 2022 returning to work within the following 12 months.
Staff who retire and return to practice tend to do so on reduced hours, according to the data, with nurses reducing their hours by roughly a third, compared to staff overall reducing their hours by a fifth on returning to practice.
Those aged between 55 and 59 are more likely to retire and return than those aged over 60. Almost half (48%) of all NHS staff, and more than half of nurses (56.3%), who retired between 55 and 59 later returned to work.
Despite an increase in those returning to the NHS after retiring, there is growing concern over nursing numbers.
In August it was revealed that the number of vacant nursing positions in the NHS increased by 3,243 between March and June 2023, taking the total to 43,339.
Later that month, Christine Callender, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) head of nursing, told Nursing In Practice that the lack of significant growth in the number of general practice nurses was ‘seriously worrying’ and showed ‘there’s still a lot of work to be done to attract people into the profession’.
Earlier this month, the RCN’s chief nurse, Professor Nicola Ranger, warned prime minister Rishi Sunak that the government’s plans for the NHS were ‘at risk of being derailed by the nurse shortage he is still not addressing’.