NHS faces ageing workforce

Written By: James Douglas
Published: June 6, 2017 Last modified: June 6, 2017

The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) has found that challenges posed by the ageing population are not exclusively borne by the younger generation.

IES research associate Jamie Cotton said that longer life expectancy necessitates longer working lives in order for individuals to be able to afford retirement, but healthy life expectancy is not rising at the same rate.

Social care costs are rising while funding continues to fall. Informal care is on the rise for the over-50s – and with it, an ever-increasing number of “sandwich carers” looking after both their children and their parents.

The old-age dependency ratio – the ratio of workers to retired people – is expected to rise from 27.6% in 2015 to 35% in 2030. This will put pressure on the already-stretched government budget, with lower tax receipts needing to pay for more pensions and the “triple-lock” commitment of a minimum 2.5% rise in the state pension every year to 2020. Meanwhile political pressure post-Brexit makes it difficult to continue to use immigration to stem the ratio’s rise.

With 46% of NHS staff now aged over 45, a significant number of nurses will be looking to retire in the short and medium term. Without a pipeline of workers from Europe to take up the shortfall, coupled with an expected reduction in the number of nursing students following the abolition of their bursaries, some NHS Trusts face a real challenge in maintaining their workforce.

The teaching, construction, and transport industries are all reliant on older workers, albeit to a lesser extent than nursing. Construction and transport are also more likely to be subject to automation, which is likely to result in a shrinking workforce in the future.