More than a third of nurses who retired two years ago had returned to the NHS workforce 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, returning staff 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.

Dr Navina Evans, Chief Workforce, Training and Education Officer for NHS England, said:

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.

Dr Navina Evans, Chief Workforce, Training and Education Officer for NHS England

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.

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.

Will Quince, Health Minister

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Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.