My experience of retiring has been a staged process through 'Retire and Return.' I was lucky that my job and the circumstances of my colleagues and department made this relatively straightforward to achieve.
The first step is to understand the rules allowing you to take your pension and continue working in the NHS. These depend on which pension scheme you are in. The NHS Business Services Authority provides fairly clear advice on this - you may need to double check this at time of reading!
The pensions authority needed at least four months’ notice to ensure everything was in place
I was in the 1995 pension scheme (rather than 2008 or 2015) so had to take at least a 24-hour break (I took two weeks), and then work no more than 16 hours per week for the first calendar month after returning. I found that this break was long enough to feel I was returning afresh with my new hat on, and not too long to deter me from returning altogether.
The pensions authority needed at least four months’ notice to ensure everything was in place – so you do need to plan far enough in advance to get agreement before you give formal resignation.
My consultant job was split between acute general paediatrics and speciality work in neuromuscular disorders. I stopped doing acute paediatrics and continued only my speciality work. I had always planned to retire at 60 and felt ready to give up working weekends and nights so this was an obvious split. The neuromuscular service was at a crucial stage of development with the recent recruitment of a second consultant colleague, and new treatments becoming available – so I didn’t feel ready to leave that at that point. My department and the trust agreed that the service would benefit from my continued support.
It is much easier if you can have straightforward agreement for what you would like to do from your trust and your colleagues
The other factor that worked in my favour was that there was a ready financial solution to present to the trust. I had a 12 programmed activity (PA) contract and relinquished 7 PAs; a colleague was leaving her 12 PA job to work abroad – so the department had 19 PAs and it wasn’t difficult to write a business case for 2 fulltime appointments in acute paediatrics.
Clearly it is much easier if you can have straightforward agreement for what you would like to do from your trust and your colleagues. Paediatric colleagues are always sympathetic to others’ needs to do less, but it can be a challenge if that leads only to an expectation for them to do more. Very large departments (eg anaesthetists in some large trusts) can plan for consultants to drop out-of-hours work above a certain age, but that’s not something many paediatric departments can consider, and it cannot work if your team has a group of a similar age.
I returned to a 5 PA contract solely working in my speciality – mostly outpatient and clinical trial work with some inpatient support. This was not enough to cover the work (of course) but I did try hard to contain the planned OP work within this. I did this for 19 months before retiring completely. During this time, my trust agreed to recruit my replacement with a planned overlap – not as long as originally hoped but we did have a two month handover period, which was particularly important as we’d taken on a number of new clinical trials. I held an Honorary contract (ie unpaid…) afterwards as the formalities of trial PI handover took a while to complete.
Probably, it’s good to realise that you can be part of the furniture for a long time but are indeed replaceable
I missed acute paediatrics: seeing children recover quickly, and the closeness of the acute team. Once I stopped visiting the wards every day, I found that after only a few months I didn’t know the trainees or new nursing staff, and they didn’t know me. Probably, it’s good to realise that you can be part of the furniture for a long time but are indeed replaceable. Now that I am retired completely (I can just about bring myself to say that) I miss my colleagues and those I worked with for so long to develop our specialty service. I have tried to maintain contact but the pandemic has added to that challenge – another story.
I miss the children and families, many of whom I had known for a long time. Occasionally, though, I'm delighted to bump into someone in the supermarket or on the station platform.