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When I’m 68: how will physio staff fare as the pension age rises?

How will older physio staff fare as the age at which people can start claiming an NHS pension continues to rise? Louise Hunt reports

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Let’s start with the good news: many more of us are surviving into older age than was the case in previous generations.

But a side effect of this welcome development is that the government has steadily been increasing the age at which people can expect to start claiming their pensions (and this applies to both the state and NHS pension).

Younger members in the NHS, for example, will, depending on their attitude, either be pleased or despondent to learn that they can expect to carry on working until they are 68.

Along with other trade unions and professional bodies, the CSP has been examining the implications arising from people’s working lives being extended.

Having consulted with members last year, the CSP, as did other interested parties, submitted evidence on the impact of working longer, and what employers needed to do in response, to the Working Longer Review (WLR) steering group.

Members of the group represent NHS employees and employers, the Department of Health and the Welsh Government (observers from Scotland and Northern Ireland have also been involved).

‘There is no doubt that for some members working up to 68 and beyond in full or part-time employment will be a challenge,’ said Penny Bromley, the CSP’s employment relations and union services national officer for research and policy.

‘Our aim is to ensure that employers take responsibility for identifying where job roles need to change. And we are working towards trying to ensure that members who need to retire earlier do not suffer financial detriment.’

She added that this is a new area of work for the CSP, as very few clinical staff currently work beyond 60.  

The changes will mark a significant shift in the employment landscape, added Ms Bromley. ‘At the moment the responsibility for when to retire, unless through ill health, is seen as an individual’s decision for which the employer does not have much input.

Whereas raising the state pension age changes the structure of retirement and employers will need to be much more involved in planning for supporting people to work longer.

Otherwise many members could face hefty actuarial reductions which could be financially punitive if they retire earlier.’

The CSP calls for an investigation into the financial impact of enforced retirement on NHS staff before the age at which they can draw their pension.

It also wants a review of how working practices and pension flexibilities can be brought together in a way that allows a range of flexible retirement options without penalising the amount of pension physio staff can expect to receive.

Addressing the occupational health needs of older NHS workers is another key strand of the CSP’s submission to the WLR steering group.

Members’ concerns over the physical effects of working longer featured in an Annual Representative Conference 2012 motion.

This drew attention to the particular risk to physios of developing musculoskeletal (MSK) problems and said 38 per cent of NHS staff who had taken early retirement on health grounds had MSK issues.

It also pointed out that physiotherapy is a relatively youthful profession, with 84 per cent of those practising in the field being aged under 49 (2.4 per cent are aged 60 and above).

Occupational health to play key role

The CSP wants the government to encourage employers to provide occupational health services that support the health and wellbeing of staff.

It also calls for the development of a risk assessment tool that can assess the impact on staff’s health and wellbeing when certain types of jobs are undertaken over a period of years.

Employers must look at the potential impact of having an older workforce, it notes. This may mean adjusting working practices and staffing levels, ensuring there enough people are present during lifting and handling.

The CSP also wants to see a strengthening of employers’ obligations to review job design and working patterns to help staff to work longer, such as part-time working and providing access to jobs that do not demand high levels of physical endurance.

Members of the CSP industrial relations committee will discuss the recommendations next month and a plan on taking them forward will be published soon.

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