DHSC consults on plans to extend NHS Pension Scheme Covid-19 easements

The government has launched a consultation on plans to extend changes to the NHS pension scheme to allow retired staff to retain pension benefits if they return to the workforce, in an effort to boost the NHS workforce ahead of winter.

The easements allow retired and partially retired staff to return to work in the NHS or increase their working commitments without having their pension benefits suspended.

The government introduced the measures in response to the pandemic as part of the Coronavirus Act 2020, and have already extended the measures once, having initially scheduled for the easements to end on 24 March 2022.

The measures are currently set to run until 31 October 2022, however, with the consultation therefore gathering views from the public and stakeholders on whether to extend the measures to 31 March 2023.

In the consutlation, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) suggested that the measures will help “support and boost” the NHS workforce ahead of a challenging winter, in an effort to put the health system “in the strongest possible position to tackle the pressures and bust the Covid backlogs”.

However, the DHSC also clarified that it believes there is still "a strong rationale" for the abatement of pension benefits for special class status members in receipt of an unreduced pension who return to work between age 55 and 60 to continue in normal circumstances.

"The suspension of SCS abatement due to the demands of the pandemic is kept under strict review and there are no plans for it to be permanently removed," it stated.

Commenting on the plans, Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, said: “The country is hugely thankful to all the retired staff who returned to support the NHS and the public during the pandemic.

“This winter will be challenging too and we are putting in place the necessary preparations to support the NHS while it continues to deliver first-rate care to patients.

“As part of this we are now consulting on extending temporary changes to the NHS pension scheme, which have so far allowed highly-skilled retired staff to return to the workforce without having their pension benefits affected.”

Adding to this, NHS Confederation chief executive, Matthew Taylor, stated: "The NHS will need all of the help it can get this winter and so, we are pleased the government will be consulting on ways to provide support to the NHS’s workforce by encouraging recent and partial retirees back to the frontline.

"This is not the only action that it is needed to respond to the rising demand for healthcare services but leaders hope it will help. On behalf of our members, we look forward to providing views in the consultation."

The government and party leader candidates have faced growing pressure to address concerns around NHS waiting times and staffing difficulties, with the Health and Social Care Committee previously branding pension tax rules that are exacerbating pressures on the NHS workforce a “national scandal”.

Conservative Party leadership frontrunner, Liz Truss, also recently stated that she would address pension tax issues that are leading to senior NHS staff retiring early, with reports that she is planning a series of reforms to try and encourage retirees to return.

Meanwhile, think tank Policy Exchange has called on the government to consider changes to the interrelationship between the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the annual allowance (AA) for public sector pension schemes, suggesting that the reform could help address the issue of doctors seeking early retirement from the NHS.

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