Pension waivers for NHS staff will continue as a harsh winter

Pension waivers for NHS staff will continue as a harsh winter

Concessions that allowed retired or semi-retired NHS staff to return to work during the coronavirus pandemic without affecting their pensions will be extended as the health service tries to fill 100,000 vacancies ahead of a tough winter.

From March 2020, certain “retirement and return” rules in the pension scheme have been relaxed to allow retired or partially retired staff to return to work or increase their working hours without suspending pension benefits.

The measures are due to expire at the end of October, and the government has now launched a consultation on whether to extend them for another year.

The Department of Health and Social Care suggested that keeping the changes would make it easier for retirees to “return to the workforce or continue to support the health system over the winter”.

Around 6.7 million people are waiting for NHS care, a record, partly due to the backlog created at the height of the Covid crisis. The winter is expected to be even tougher than usual as staff struggle with that backlog, along with a potential spike in Covid and flu cases.

Steve Barclay, the health and social care secretary, said the winter would be “challenging and we are making the necessary preparations to support the NHS as it continues to deliver first-class patient care”.

This included a consultation on extending temporary changes to the NHS pension system “which have until now allowed highly skilled retired staff to return to the workforce without affecting their pensions”, he said.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “The NHS will need all the help it can get this winter and we are therefore pleased that the government will consult on ways to support the NHS workforce by encouraging recent and part-retirees to are returning to the front.”

While this was not the only action needed to respond to the growing demand for health services, “leaders hope it will help,” he added.

Dr Vishal Sharma, chairman of the BMA’s pensions committee, supported the move but said “the reality is that this policy only affects a small number of doctors who want to return after retirement — namely psychiatrists with ‘mental health officer’ status — and does nothing to prevent an exodus of senior consultants and GPs leaving the NHS due to absurd punitive taxes on pensions”.

A report in The Times on Saturday said ministers were preparing to announce other changes to tax and pension rules in a bid to stem senior staff departures. The report suggests the government is also considering allowing staff at any level to swap part of their pensions for extra pay in the hope of retaining nurses and other lower-paid workers amid the cost-of-living crisis.

Health chiefs are understood to be worried about the increasing number of NHS staff who are ditching their monthly pension contributions to help pay the bills.

Dr Tony Goldstone, deputy chairman of the BMA’s Pensions Committee, said: “While it is encouraging that ministers are listening to what the BMA and others have been telling them for several years, we cannot influence our members to change their plans until we have insight into all the details to ensured that they go far enough and will provide a robust and long-term solution to the short- and long-term consequences of these ill-informed taxes.”

The Treasury said it was unable to comment on tax matters outside of fiscal events.

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