Retired doctors are being urged to return to work in a bid to ease unprecedented pressure on hospital waiting lists. Those who have left the medical profession – and doctors nearing retirement – will be encouraged to help tackle the backlog as part of the new drive.
It is understood that hospital medics due to retire could choose to work from home overseeing ‘virtual wards’. Meanwhile retired consultants will be offered work training less experienced doctors.
In addition, caps on the amount of time surgeons can work every week will be removed, while all staff will be encouraged to take on extra hours, reports The Times, which says it has seen a letter sent by NHS England to hospital trusts on Tuesday (May 3). The newspaper said about 21,000 doctors over the age of 65 are due to retire this year, worsening a shortage of 110,000 NHS staff.
Last month, NHS figures for February showed 6.2 million people in England were waiting to begin routine hospital treatment. This was the highest number since 2007, when records began.
The Times said the letter recommended that hospitals take “high impact” actions, and mentioned “encouraging recently retired staff and individuals considering retirement to return” by offering “arrangements that reflect their experience, skills and own preferences”. It emphasised: ““Where staff retire after their normal retirement age, they can return safe in the knowledge their pension will not be reduced.”
Stella Vig, national clinical director of elective care for the NHS, said: “Our staff are our greatest asset in tackling the Covid backlog, and already they have made considerable strides with the number of people waiting more than two years almost halving in the last two months. But… it is essential we continue to support our colleagues, harness their collective skill and draw on their ideas to improve things for patients.”
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, said: “It’s important to keep exploring ideas for how we can accelerate backlog recovery by expanding workforce capacity in the NHS. But we cannot disguise the fact that the NHS simply doesn’t have enough staff.”
Jeremy Hunt, a former health secretary, called for a long-term workforce plan, saying “the NHS should not be left to beg doctors to postpone their retirement”.