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New guidance on how to retain older doctors

by Anna Colivicchi
5 July 2023

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NHS England has published guidance to help retain doctors in the late stage of their careers, recommending approaches such as flexible working, financial advice on pensions and mentoring.

The guidance, published at the beginning of this month, gives ten recommendations for employers to consider when supporting doctors in late career ‘to stay and stay well in the NHS’.

Around 30% of the NHS workforce are aged 50 and over, with NHS Digital figures showing that almost 38% of fully qualified, full-time equivalent GPs were aged 50 or over as of April this year.  

The commissioner said that while the new guidance is primarily aimed at retaining older doctors in secondary care settings, it can be adapted by other staff groups including primary care.

It said that ‘it is important to have retirement conversations early enough to help older doctors to plan and consider their options around retirement’ and that ‘employers should not make assumptions about how doctors’ preferences change with age’.

According to the guidance, retirement conversations could be ‘standalone conversations’ or could be included as part of appraisals and yearly reviews of job plans but should ‘ideally happen before a staff member has begun to consider or started preparing to leave, and the opportunity to retain them may already have been lost’.

It also recommended that employers should promote and support various options for flexible working, including less than full-time working, reduced or no on-call/out-of-hours responsibilities, job sharing, annualised hours contract and remote working.

Doctors in late career stages should also be signposted to financial advice and be provided access to information to help raise awareness of pensions taxation and the options that exist for doctors worried about its impact.

Their skills could also be retained and used ‘away from the clinical setting’ as they can provide coaching, mentoring and pastoral support to NHS staff who are at the start of their careers or are newly appointed to the NHS.

Em Wilkinson-Brice, NHS England’s national director for people, said: ‘Retaining our colleagues in late stage career is important, particularly as a third of our workforce are aged 50 and over.

‘This guidance focuses on how we can best support doctors in late stage careers, however, aspects of the recommendations are also applicable to all our NHS people.’

Celia Ingham Clark, NHS England’s medical director for professional leadership and clinical effectiveness, said: ‘Older workers have a wealth of skills, experience and knowledge which can be of huge value, often with the benefit of flexibility and local insight.

‘Doctors in late stage careers also have an important role to play in education, supervision and mentoring of doctors in training and act as role models for the wider workforce.

‘We hope this resource will inspire you to help doctors in late stage careers to feel happy and fulfilled at work and supported to achieve their individual ambitions, whilst delivering the highest levels of care to patients.’

In May, NHS England announced it will run a campaign to encourage departed GPs to return to the profession, working for practices or NHS 111, by promoting ‘flexible roles where, for example, working from home is possible’.

 A version of this story first appeared on our sister publication, Pulse.