The ageing workforce and the NHS

Recruiting and retaining staff are becoming major issues for the majority of hospitals. To help solve the problem, organisations should be more age aware, says Rachael Armistead of the WLG.

Currently 47 per cent of the NHS workforce is aged 45 and above, with the average age being 43 and predicted to increase. The ageing workforce is an issue that organisations need to address today to prevent workforce challenges in the future.

The normal pension age is now equal to state pension age. This change means that 70 per cent of the NHS workforce will have a pension age of between 65 and 68. The NHS Working Longer Group (WLG) is a partnership group of nationally recognised NHS trade unions, NHS employers and health department representatives from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland that was established to review the implications of working to a later retirement age.

Since the group was established in 2012, it has undertaken a significant amount of work, including an audit of existing research into the impact of working beyond age 60. It has made a national call for evidence to obtain NHS specific information about the impact of a raised retirement age, and has taken into consideration a range of data. Data from these pieces of work were used to inform the preliminary findings and recommendations report, which made 11 recommendations, submitted to the health departments in spring 2014. In October 2014, the group was formally commissioned to deliver a body of work based on these recommendations.

Data monitoring
A number of groups have been established to deliver these pieces of work, which include a range of products for use across the NHS workforce. One of the groups has been undertaking some national research through visits to NHS organisations across the UK to gather intelligence on current practice in a variety of areas relating to working longer. This looked at what data is currently collected and how it’s used; what older workers’ access to learning and development is, how their skills are kept up to date and what policies, practices and initiatives organisations have in place to support the ageing workforce.

The group also looked at how organisations currently use equality and diversity monitoring to support an ageing workforce, how they promote the use of the NHS Pension Scheme flexibilities and how they work in partnership with trade unions to support their staff to work longer.

This research was undertaken through qualitative interviews and a number of themes emerged during the visits. The results demonstrated there is a desire to open up conversations about career and retirement plans between line managers and staff and there appears to be large variations in the use of flexibilities, such as retire and return, or step down. It was felt these flexibilities should be utilised more to support staff to work longer. There is also a demand for national data to help organisations benchmark. Data is often collected, but more could be done with it to develop initiatives to support the ageing workforce. There is a perceived difference in the duties carried out by different age groups. The information gathered through this research will inform future work.

It was clear from initial findings that further work needs to be done to help members understand the pension scheme and the flexibilities available to them. One of the groups is now developing a training package for HR teams, which will include information on the NHS Pension Scheme and how flexibilities within the scheme can be used to enable staff to work to a raised retirement age. The training package will help HR teams further their understanding so they feel more equipped to support staff.

Age awareness
Another group has recently launched an age awareness toolkit for employers. This was designed to help them work in partnership with trade unions to create organisational awareness of the opportunities and challenges associated with an ageing workforce. During the initial work, it was observed that organisations across the UK are at varying stages of awareness of this important issue. The toolkit includes resources to help employers raise awareness of the issues that working longer presents, including how to assess workforce demographics and organisational readiness for the ageing workforce.

It will also support them to embed actions to make sure practices or policies within their organisation reflect workforce demographics of the future.

Age awareness is not simply about knowing the age of the workforce, it’s about using an understanding of the age demographics across an organisation to inform effective workforce planning. Raising awareness will help facilitate cultural and behavioural change within organisations and changes to policy and practice that support and enable employees to work longer, safely.

Although it is clear that a wealth of information and evidence has already been gathered, there still remains further work to be undertaken. The WLG is continuing to gather evidence to feed in to this work and will continue to produce resources that meet the needs of the NHS.

Further Information
workinglongergroup@nhsemployers.org
www.nhsmployers.org/wlg

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