THE NHS must make significant changes to allow nurses to work for longer in physically demanding jobs following increases to the pension age, nursing leaders have warned.
The Westminster government has announced plans to increase the pension age to 68 in the coming years, meaning many health staff face working much longer than they would have anticipated.
A consultation, just launched by the Scottish Government, is asking for suggestions as to how the NHS can cope with the ageing workforce.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Scotland said many nurses saw working to 68 as a daunting prospect and said employers needed to make changes to allow them to do so.
The Public Service Pensions Act 2013 means that from 2015 NHS staff will have a normal pension age equal to their state pension age.
While some staff are protected against the changes, up to 70 per cent of the workforce will have a pension age of between 65 and 68 depending on their date of birth.
The consultation document points out that this could increase again in future if government raised the state pension age further.
As part of a UK-wide NHS Working Longer Review, the consultation said it wanted help in identifying “examples of good practice that enable staff to continue working”.
Norman Provan, associate director of RCN Scotland, said it would be asking its members about what they considered to be the barriers to working longer in the NHS. He said significant changes would need to be made by employers.
“Nursing is a extremely physically and emotionally demanding job,” he told The Scotsman.
“The question we are asking is whether it is reasonable to suggest that all nurses will be able to work with that level of intensity into their late 60s?
“There are nurses now who choose to work past the age at which they can retire, which historically has been 60. But the issue when you impose a change like this is that it is going to become normal that all nurses are going to have to do that.”
Changes to working patterns could involve providing support for physical and emotional well-being, Mr Provan suggested.
He said: “For example, many nurses suffer from bad backs because of the lifting they do.
“So if they were able to offer fast-track physio and massage that would help them maintain their health and work for longer.
“There are things you could to work shift patterns. You could look at the shifts people are working or whether there are less physically demanding roles that nurses could do if they are finding it more difficult to work. They could work in an area which is less acute or less stressful.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It is important that NHS staff can work successfully and productively at all ages.
“The NHS Working Longer Review has launched a call for evidence to look at possible impacts of a raised pension age, which will help the NHS to meet the needs of the ageing workforce.”