The ‘greying’ of the United Kingdom nursing workforce: implications for employment policy and practice
One in five nurses on the United Kingdom (UK) professional register is aged 50 years or older. Over the next few years, the profession will lose, through retirement, many of its most experienced practitioners. The significance for policy makers and for employers of this age-shift is two-fold. Firstly it is clear that greater numbers of nurses and midwives are reaching, or soon will reach, potential retirement age. Secondly many more nurses are now reaching their middle years and they are likely to have different requirements and attitudes to nursing work. This paper examines the employment policy and practice of the ageing of the UK nursing population. The paper examines data from official sources, and information from attitudinal surveys and case studies with employing organizations to assess the major effects of the ageing of the nursing workforce. Key findings are that the age profile of those nurses working in the National Health Service appears to be ‘younger’ than that of the total population, with the age profile of nurses working in nursing homes and as practice nurses being older than that of the NHS nursing workforce. However, the overall age profile of NHS nurses masks considerable variation between specialties and trusts, and the ‘pool’ of potential nurse returners from which the NHS and other employers attempts to recruit, is declining in numbers, as it too ages. Other major issues requiring policy attention are the provision of appropriate flexible hours to older nurses who have caring responsibilities, improving access to continuing professional development, and reducing pension provision inflexibility.