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 but wiser
  A briefing based on Older…but wiser?, a report for the Royal College
  of Nursing Scotland by James Buchan, Fiona O’May and Dolly McCann,
  Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, November 2008

  The issue
  Significant numbers of nurses in Scotland are aged 50 or over and so coming into the age range
  when they will consider retiring or perhaps reducing their working hours. Preventing or replacing
  this loss of skills and expertise is one of the main workforce challenges facing the NHS today.

  To identify how best to tackle the issue of Scotland’s ageing nursing workforce, RCN Scotland
  commissioned James Buchan and colleagues at Queen Margaret University to review the research
  literature on the policy implications of, and policy responses to, the ageing nursing workforce. Older…
  but wiser? reports on what is known about the policy challenges of an ageing nursing workforce, and
  also ‘what works’ in terms of reported policy initiatives.

  Key facts:
  •    The NHS retirement age for most nurses is 60 – 65 and older nurses are generally considered
       to be those over 50.
  •    Many nurses are required to work shifts at some time, the job is often stressful and can carry
       a heavy physical workload.
  •    Age profiles for acute, mental health and community nurses all peak in the 40 – 50 age band,
       but community nursing has the oldest age profile.
  •    One in three nurses working in the NHS community sector, e.g., health visitors, school nurses
       and district nurses, is aged 50 or over and as they are more likely to be able to retire at 55,
       three out of ten community nurses will reach retirement age within the next 10 years.
  •    Survey evidence also suggests there are older age profiles in practice nursing and in the
       nursing/care home sector.
  •    Evidence suggests that promotion chances tend to diminish rapidly after the age of 40,
       particularly for women.
  •    There is a strong economic case to keep older nurses within the workforce:
       - a nurse retiring at age 50 still has 10 years or more to contribute to the NHS
       - she/he will have had a great deal of investment in training and continuous professional
       - their accumulated wisdom and knowledge, while difficult to quantify, represents a loss
         to both patients and the NHS.
Age Profile, NHS nurses, Scotland, by location delivered, September 2007

                                                                                             Mental Health

Source: ISD, NHSScotland Workforce Information, http://www.isdscotland.org/

RCN Scotland calls on Scottish Government support for:
A national forum on the ageing of the nursing workforce
This partnership-based forum would take the lead on awareness raising, policy assessment and
evaluation of the contribution of older nurses. It would include representatives of employers,
nurses, professional organisations/trade unions and government and would also tap into relevant
policy advice from other sectors. The forum could be responsible for the following actions:

•      Improving the evidence base to inform policy: commission a nursing workforce audit and
       related scenario projections, to map out the varying age profiles of nurses in different sectors
       and regions to identify where policy intervention is most critical;
•      Supporting national workforce planning: better data on nurse retirement in the NHS and
       other sectors should be collected so that patterns can be monitored. Employers should be
       encouraged to contribute more detailed information, for example, based on systematic use
       of exit interviews;
•      Testing possible policy effects: the NHS in Scotland should use scenario projections to
       assess the impact of policies on the future size and age profile of the nursing workforce. This
       would give early warning to policy makers of which regions and sectors would be most heavily
       impacted; and
•      Obtaining input and feedback from nurses: a structured survey and/or focus groups would
       provide the rich sources of data that are required to support planning, scenario projections,
       and informed policy making.

    Taking action
    There is no shortage of possible actions for the Scottish Government, the NHS and other
    employers to take to retain older nurses. However, more evidence, as outlined above, is
    required to help identify the most effective and timely actions and policies that will help meet
    the challenge of the ageing nursing workforce.

    As well as providing support for the work required to gather and analyse this evidence,
    RCN Scotland calls on the Scottish Government to commit from the outset to implement and
    sustain appropriate and effective policies. Only in this way can we begin to tackle the loss of
    skills and expertise presented by the ageing nursing workforce and become older and wiser
    for the benefit of patients across Scotland.

RCN Scotland is the largest professional organisation and trade union for nurses, with a
membership of over 38,000 members. RCN Scotland promotes patient and nursing interests on a
wide range of issues on behalf of its members.

For more information on the Older…but wiser? report or any other issues affecting health and
nursing, please go to www.rcn.org.uk/scotland