More than a third of nurses who retired two years ago had returned to practice 12 months later, according to new NHS England figures.
Analysis of NHS workforce data found that 4,600 of 10,300 (44%) nursing staff that retired between July 2021 and June 2022 had rejoined the health service within 12 months – 4 percentage points more than the previous year.
The increase comes after an extension to changes to the pension rules first introduced in 2020. This means that staff with the reserved right to retire at age 55 such as nurses, midwives, physiotherapists and health visitors, can retire and return to the NHS without it impacting their pension - even if they work full time.
Since 1 April 2023, they can also rejoin the pension scheme and build further pension if they wish.
It also comes after NHS England made it mandatory for NHS organisations to offer staff flexible working options for every role.
Across the wider NHS the retire and return rate was 37% over the last year, with 12,800 out of 34,500 members of staff 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, 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.
The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan published earlier this year said that changes to the pension scheme to allow more staff to return to work after retirement, alongside improved flexible working options and better opportunities for career development could mean that 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. Subject to a reduction in pensionable pay, staff can now draw down some or all their pension whilst continuing to work and build up further pension.
Dr Navina Evans, Chief Workforce, Training and Education Officer for NHS England, said: “The NHS is hugely grateful to staff who have given years of service to care and treat patients and we recognise their skills and experience as being massively beneficial to the healthcare service.
“However, we understand that as people approach the end of their careers, they want to enjoy a higher degree of flexibility in their working life.
“The retire and return arrangements help the NHS to retain highly experienced staff for longer, which supports colleagues and patients and also helps the NHS realise the ambitions laid out in the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.”
Dame Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England said: “Our NHS nurses and healthcare staff work tirelessly to care for patients each and every day and it is fantastic thousands are returning to join their former colleagues.
“To support staff to work in the health service for longer the NHS is offering more flexible working options than ever before, while new rules mean you can earn a salary while still taking your NHS pension, so I would encourage any retired NHS staff to consider coming back, there has never been a better time to do so.”
Will Quince, Health Minister, said: “Our hardworking NHS staff benefit from one of the most generous pension schemes in the UK.
“These figures are testament to the changes the government has made to make the scheme more flexible for staff later in their careers – meaning more can choose to continue treating patients and helping to tackle the backlogs, one of the government’s top five priorities.”
Notes to editors
Retire and return is a type of flexible retirement which means that members can draw their pension and return to working in the NHS.
Flexible retirement is seen as a way to improve staff retention, workforce capacity and maintain patient continuity.
To support this, NHS England has maintained a forensic focus on flexible retirement ensuring:
- Temporary pension easements under the Coronavirus Act 2020 until 31st March 2025
- From 1 April 2023, 1995 Section members who retire and return to the NHS can rejoin the 2015 Scheme
- From 1 April 2023, the 16-hour rule is abolished. This rule allowed for a pension to be suspended, if the member retired and returned to the NHS and worked more than 16 hours within the first calendar month
Data has been taken from the NHS Electronic Staff Record (ESR) and therefore does not include figures from primary care and may not present a full picture.