Matter for Discussion: Older health care workers
Submitted by the RCN Greater Liverpool and Knowsley Branch
14 May 2023, 09:00 - 18 May, 17:00
CHANGED to Resolution: That this meeting of RCN Congress calls on RCN Council to lobby employers to ensure the welfare and occupational safety of older health care workers.
This resolution passed.
The UK has an ageing workforce and nursing is no exception to that trend with 27% of nurses aged between 45 and 54 and more than one in six (17.6%) aged 55 and over (Nuffield Trust, 2022).
An older worker is generally defined as one who is 50 years or older. With age comes experience and older workers make a positive contribution to organisations.
With NHS pensions linked to state pensions and often poor occupational pension provisions in the independent sector, it is likely that more of the nursing workforce will be working into their late 60s. This is set against a backdrop of diminishing pension benefits and decreased tax allowances, creating an environment where workers may be forced to work longer for less.
Whilst age affects everyone differently, years of physical and emotionally demanding work such as nursing, can cause harm to health. Extended working lives will result in longer exposure to hazards at work, including shift work, chemicals, work-related stress and manual handling, unless those risks are properly managed.
In its report, Understanding Older Workers, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (2022) highlight that more than 50% of workers have a long-term health condition by the time they reach 60, and a third are affected by some form of disability. While only a quarter of older workers over 60 say that their health limits the type or amount of work that they can do, too many workers leave employment by this age because of poor health. They call for investment in timely, preventative occupational health services accessible to all workers, throughout their working lives.
UK-wide health and safety legislation does not require an individual risk assessment for an older worker. However, as part of a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, employers must identify who can be harmed and how, and put in place reasonable measures to reduce that risk.
In 2014, the RCN took part in the Working Longer Review (NHS Staff Council, 2014) which made recommendations to support extending working lives, including the provision of good occupational health and wellbeing services for health care staff and changes to job design to enable everyone to work safely and effectively.
The International Council of Nurses’ 10-point plan to support older nurses at work (2020), echoes calls for job re-design and occupational health and safety policies that support older workers’ wellbeing.
Reading list for this debate available at rcn.libguides.com/congress2023.
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (2022) Understanding older workers: analysis and recommendations to support longer and more fulfilling working lives. Available at: www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/work/trends/understanding-older-workers (Accessed 13 March 2023).
International Council of Nurses (2020) Ageing well? Policies to support older nurses at work. Available at: www.icn.ch/node/1294 (Accessed 13 March 2023).
NHS Staff Council (2014) NHS working longer review: preliminary findings and recommendations report for the Health Departments. Available at: www.nhsemployers.org/system/files/media/WLR-Preliminary-findings-and-recommendations-report_1.pdf (Accessed 13 March 2023).
Nuffield Trust (2022) The NHS workforce in numbers. Available at: www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/resource/the-nhs-workforce-in-numbers (Accessed 13 March 2023).
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