The RCM is calling for the suspension of the abatement rule to continue

By Alice Sorby, Employment Relations Advisor, The Royal College of Midwives Midwives Pensions Covid-19 NHS

I was trying to think how to make this blog sound exciting. But it’s tricky when I’m updating you on the proposed continuation of the suspension of restrictions on return to work or the abatement rule, introduced by the Coronavirus Act. That sentence probably doesn’t make a lot of sense but it is important, and could affect you if you are currently, or thinking, about doing some NHS work after you have retired and receiving your NHS pension.

This consultation from the Department of Health and Social Care is also a real world example of how your RCM can influence decision makers to the benefit of you, our members.

First, let’s rewind a bit. Back in 2020 a whole raft of legislation was introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, buried within that was the suspension of restrictions on return to work. Those RCM members who have retired and returned to work will know that the abatement rule means there is a strict limit on the number of hours that retired staff who are in receipt of their pension can work without facing financial penalty.

Those penalties vary depending on the individual, but if you are retired and receiving an NHS pension, going back to work for the NHS, even part time, could see you facing reductions in your NHS pension while you are working if you do not abide by the abatement rule. The lifting of this rule meant that many retired staff were able to work more hours to support the NHS through the pandemic.

When it was announced that the rules would be back in place after the Coronavirus Act expired in March 2022 many RCM members told us the impact this would have. Retired midwives have provided invaluable support over the past two years and helped to ease staffing shortages across maternity services.

Armed with this feedback from members we wrote to the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid outlining our concerns. We told him that although it is not the long-term answer to resolving the shortage of midwives, the pause of the abatement rule was an important short-term measure which has eased some of the pressures. We asked for the pause to be extended for another twelve months.

Lo and behold and a few days later the Department of Health and Social Care opened a consultation proposing that the pause continues for another six months.

The RCM has responded reaffirming our position set out in the letter to the Secretary of State for a 12 month pause. Don’t get me wrong this won’t solve the serious problems you are facing. The list is long, including chronic staffing shortages, the lack of a decent pay award, and the need for better access to flexible working. We can add to this the prevention of burnout of staff by limiting excess hours, using recruitment and retention premia to target posts and areas with the greatest shortages, and the prioritisation of the health and wellbeing of maternity staff. All these are all required to address that.

This small but notable victory on the abatement rule may not be making front page news. It does though show how we as your trade union are influencing and achieving change. I hope that this also shows how engaging with the RCM can make a difference. We are most effective when we work together!

I’m adding this note to the blog on 10 March because the Government response to the consultation has just been published. The response confirms that the pause will indeed be extended until 31 October 2022