‘Special Class’ status in NHS pensions for front line ambulance staff

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2009 Health Care Service Group Conference
12 December 2008

The NHS currently has two pension schemes operating. The “NHS Pension Scheme” has been offered to all staff who joined the NHS before 31 March 2008. The “New NHS Pension Scheme” has been offered to all staff joining since 1 April 2008. Staff in the original ‘NHS Pension Scheme’ have a one off option of staying in it or moving to the “New NHS Pension Scheme” and can do that from July 1 2009 up until 30 June 2010. All new staff entering the NHS from now on will only be offered the chance to join the “New NHS Pension Scheme”.

The original “NHS Pension Scheme” recognises “Special Classes” although these have been phased out for new joiners to those posts with that status during the late nineties but were still active for those in post. Some of those posts in the NHS which had “Special Class Status” under the old “R2 and R3” regulations were Female Nurses (extended to Male Nurses in 1990), Physiotherapists, Midwives and Health Visitors (under R.2) and Mental Health Officers (under R3). These post holders were entitled to retire as soon as they reached age 55. Some of these staff are still in post and will still be entitled to that retirement age.

The “New NHS Pension Scheme” does not recognise any “Special Class Status” and the Normal pension age (NPA) is now 65.

NHS Ambulance staff – Technicians, Paramedics, Emergency Care Practitioners, Support Workers, Control Room Staff who all work on “front line” duties, are exposed to the worst that society can and does throw at them. Stress levels are rising at an unprecedented rate with 999 call volume increasing at around 10% year on year with added pressure from employers to meet unattainable targets.

Front line staff are exposed to highly traumatic and emotionally charged situations on a daily basis with little or no respite in between 999 calls where hospital turnaround times place extra pressure on crews to perform. Control room staff are under unreasonable pressure to take calls in seconds and despatch resources (ambulance crews) within a few more seconds, often when the caller is in a highly emotional state – maybe because their loved one is dying in front of them.

Front line crews including increasing numbers of lone responders in cars, more and more working alone, are attending violent incidents, drug and alcohol fuelled scenarios, traumatic road traffic and other accidents. This on top of “routine” sudden illness and chronic conditions in patients homes or workplaces and public areas, resulting in regular application of manual lifting and handling techniques which often cannot be assisted by lifting aids that are routinely used in more controlled environments in most premises of the NHS.

Most NHS Ambulance staff work on 24/7 rosters often missing out on spending time with their families on public holidays such as Christmas. It is well documented that shift work has a detrimental effect on health due to irregular or disturbed sleep patterns and poor diet.

This overall abuse of both mind and body is not exactly inviting a long and healthy retirement. Our colleagues in the other 999 services all enjoy earlier retirement ages. Fire-fighters can retire at 55 and Police Officers can retire after 30 year3 membership of their scheme. Today, a paramedic entering the NHS Ambulance Service at age 23 will work under the conditions described above for 42 years.

Conference calls upon the HSGE to address this issue with a view of supporting the reintroduction of “Special Classes”, in particular for front line ambulance, staff, into both pension schemes.