COVID-19: retired doctors returning to work

This guidance is for retired and former NHS doctors choosing to return to support the pandemic response. It covers return to work routes, performers list regulations, pay, indemnity, pension, the work you can perform and technology.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors Retired doctors
Updated: Monday 26 July 2021
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Helping with the vaccination programme


Doctors who offer their support in delivering the COVID vaccine programme in primary care will be exempt from the requirement to be included on the England medical performers list.


Read more in our COVID vaccination programme workforce guidance.

Joining clinical practice during the pandemic and beyond

The GMC granted temporary registration to additional doctors under its emergency powers, so that they are able to help with the coronavirus pandemic. This included:

  • 15,500 doctors who had given up their registration or licence to practise within the last three years
  • nearly 6,800 doctors with a UK address who gave up their registration between three and six years ago
  • a further 12,000 doctors with a UK address who are GMC registered, but who do not currently hold a licence to practise. 

Approximately 28,000 of these doctors chose to remain on the register.

Returning to work in the NHS in the pandemic is entirely up to you. If you do not opt out:

  • you will be asked to complete a short survey to help determine your skills and how you can assist the health service
  • you will remain on the medical register for the duration of the emergency and will be informed when your registration comes to an end
  • you won’t be charged to re-join the medical register
  • you will be granted a licence to practice at no extra charge (if you have left the NHS in the last three years) 
  • you won’t need to revalidate during your temporary registration.

Further information about temporary registration and licences is available from the GMC.

The GMC will have shared your details with the health service in the country of your registered address (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales). You should have been contacted by your health service and consulted on potential return most recently in autumn or winter 2020.

Secondary care doctors may find it useful to read the BMA’s general advice for returning to clinical practice.

GPs may find it useful to read the BMA’s return to practice and GP international programmes and GP retention scheme guidance.


If you haven’t been contacted yet, you can email the GMC at [email protected] or call them on 0161 923 6602. You can let them know that you would like to be added back onto the medical register and/or granted a licence to practice, and confirm your contact details and former branch of practice.

 The GMC will confirm whether you are eligible to return to the emergency register. Once you have received this conformation, information on applying to return to work can be found for:

Over 69s

NHSEI (NHS England and NHS Improvement) took the decision not to ask any doctor aged over 69 to return to practise via the national recruitment initiatives due to the increased risk.

If you are aged over 69 and you believe you could support the current or post-pandemic effort, you can contact your local provider eg a hospital, trust or primary care network, directly and offer to return to work.

If you were to return through this local route, your new employer would still have the same legal obligations towards you with regard to the conditions highlighted below. They must also ensure you are either fully vaccinated before beginning work or you are set up to work remotely.

You should also ensure that you are offered a contract of employment and the level of pay is reflective of your skills, the work you are undertaking and your experience. Please use the BMA contract checking service.

Medical support workers

The medical support worker role is suitable for those who have a medical qualification but have been out of clinical practice for over a year and need to work under clinical supervision.

It is also suitable for those who do not yet have GMC registration, eg international medical graduates or refugee doctors currently living in the UK.

It is likely that some doctors employed as medical support workers may then be suitable to convert into long-term employees who progress their medical careers in the NHS.

View NHS England guidance and apply.

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NHS performers list regulations

GPs in England wishing to return to general practice during the emergency

NHS England invited GPs who left the performers list in the past three to five years to be put back on the performers list as an emergency registered practitioner. 

When a form has been received, NHS England will confirm whether you have been added to the list.

Primary care providers looking to secure your skills will need to see evidence that you are on the list as part of the governance arrangements that they must comply with.

If you do not hear from NHS England and you wish to offer your services as a GP, please email [email protected].   

DBS checks

You are required to have a valid DBS certificate in order to work and for your eventual employer to be fully indemnified. If you have recently obtained or maintained one, a new certificate may not be necessary. 

Your pay and contract 

If you are returning to work in a medical role in secondary care you will be paid on the appropriate contract for the role you are fulfilling providing you return to the same responsibility.

If you want to return to a more junior role than the role you retired from, you should be paid at the top of the pay scale in the more junior role.

See more guidance from NHS Employers on terms and conditions for hospital doctors during COVID-19 in England.

If you are returning to general practice, the BMA believes you should be offered terms no less favourable than the model contract for salaried GPs. There is no pay scale for salaried GPs. You must ensure your salary reflects your level of responsibility, experience and qualifications.

For support on contractual matters please contact [email protected].


Your pension

The Government has suspended the rule that prevents NHS staff who return to work after retirement from working more than 16 hours per week.

They have also suspended rules on abatement and draw down of NHS pensions that apply to certain retirees who return to work. This is to allow skilled and experienced staff who have recently retired from the NHS to return to work, and also allow retired staff who have already returned to work to increase their commitments if required, without having their pension benefits suspended.

Death in service cover

In England

In England the Government announced a life assurance scheme for frontline health and care staff during the pandemic. Families of eligible workers who die from coronavirus in the course of their frontline work will receive a £60,000 payment. This will be separate to the death in service benefits within the NHS pension scheme. Read our guidance on how the life assurance scheme works.

In Wales

Wales has a life assurance scheme similar to the England scheme.

In Scotland

Scotland announced that all staff affected by COVID-19 as a result of providing frontline treatment for COVID-19 patients will receive the full lump sum and survivor’s pension benefits available under the terms of the NHS pension scheme. This includes both permanent and fixed-term staff who are not members of the pension scheme, NHS bank and locum staff. Read more from Scottish Government.

In Northern Ireland 

The Health and Social Care Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme

The HSC Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme means that in the event of a staff member dying due to COVID-19, a lump sum payment of £60,000 will be made to their estate, if they meet the qualifying work-related criteria for the scheme. The scheme is non-contributory, meaning there is no cost to staff or employers.

The new scheme is independent of the HSC Pension Scheme. Any lump sum or pension benefits payable to the relatives or dependents of HSC Pension Scheme members will continue to be processed and paid as before.

The HSC Pension Scheme entitlements 

If you die within five years of retirement, a balancing lump sum payment will be payable to your dependents, as well as a spouse’s pension, equal to the lesser of:

  • 5 x pension less pension already paid or
  • 2 x actual annual pensionable salary at retirement less any retirement lump sum claimed (for primary care doctors annual salary means is the average annual dynamised remuneration at retirement).

See more information on death in service benefits from NHS Employers.

More information about your pension is available from the BMA.

If you have questions about your pension, contact [email protected].


Your indemnity cover

Indemnity for NHS clinical negligence liabilities relating to the coronavirus outbreak not covered by an existing indemnity are being provided for by the Government.

This is either through existing clinical negligence state-run schemes or via the new clinical negligence scheme for coronavirus. Similar levels of cover are being provided in the devolved nations.

This state indemnity will ensure that you and your employer are protected against clinical negligence claims for the work you undertake as part of the COVID-19 response and to support efforts to reduce the backlog of non-COVID care.

You are also strongly advised to contact your previous medical defence organisation to ensure you have adequate professional (non-clinical negligence) indemnity cover for the role you will be undertaking.


The type of work you can perform

Vaccination programme

Many existing and former members of the NHS workforce can be involved in the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

Registered healthcare professionals will need to carry out the clinical assessment and secure patient consent, but a suitably trained non-registered member of staff can administer the vaccine itself under clinical supervision.

Former NHS doctors who were 'registered without license to practise' by the GMC at the start of the pandemic can also get involved unless they actively opted out. A recent amendment to the law also means former NHS doctors in England do not need to be on the national performers list to support the vaccination effort either.

You must not, however, work beyond the remit of one of the three national vaccinator roles, unless you have obtained a GMC licence to practise and have been added to the national performers list.

If you do so, neither you nor the practice or vaccination site will be indemnified through the clinical negligence scheme for general practice.

Read our guidance on COVID-19 vaccination programme extra workforce for more details.

Other NHS work

Training authorities and employing organisations will determine the range of work you can do based on your skills and experience.

For example, an NHS employing organisation will make sure anyone asked to supervise others is adequately trained and competent to do so.

Your training requirements will be assessed based on what is being asked of you, your experience and skills, and how long you have been out of practice. Employers must ensure all statutory competence checks take place before you can work.

The type of work you may be able to undertake will vary and some work will carry more risk, for example you may be needed to work in:

  • patient-facing roles, including remote consultations
  • non-patient facing roles such as drug management tasks, lab results etc
  • triage support in call centres / NHS111.

Once you are back on the medical register there will be no legal barrier to you undertaking training or supervisory roles as long as these are to assist with the pandemic. GMC guidance includes backfilling for staff redeployed to treat COVID-19 patients and working in services to clear backlogs caused by the pandemic.

Your employer must make sure that you have the support and training you need to practice safely.  

Your employer must make sure that adequate support is given to your supervising doctor(s) to manage their additional workload.

GPs working for CCAS

NHSEI has been employing returning GPs on a standard contract with the CCAS (COVID clinical advice service). Some GPs have then been utilised by local practices.

The standard contract being used does not mirror the standard salaried GP contract, and we do not consider it to provide appropriate rates of pay or conditions.

For support on contractual matters please contact [email protected].

Working outside your specialty

It is reasonable for you to be asked to work outside your specialty. However, you should work within your competence.


Your health and wellbeing

Your employer should particularly bear in mind those who are at higher risk of illness and consider whether it would be more appropriate for them to be deployed in low-risk settings. 

Your employer should undertake an individual risk assessment with you before starting work. The outcome of the risk assessment will help to determine the type of work you might do.

If you have underlying long-term health conditions, you should let your line manager know if there is a worsening of your condition, as it might put you at greater risk.

The BMA has a 24/7 counselling line for doctors and medical students should you need support.

Your employer should also:

  • make sure returning staff have access to a local OH (occupational health) service and receive basic OH screenings/assessments and necessary occupational immunisations if they are in contact with patients. 
  • inform returning staff of the latest COVID-19 government and PHE advice for health professionals
  • make sure staff receive a proper induction with their line manager and agree a plan for return, working hours, accommodating adjustments and any specific concerns, learning needs and required assessments
  • signpost staff to wellbeing support services - including counselling and employee assistance programmes
  • make sure staff with direct patient contact are familiar with necessary operating procedures and are trained in using equipment e.g. PPE
  • ensure staff are looking after their wellbeing, take breaks, eat regularly, keep hydrated and have access to spaces where they can rest
  • keep in regular contact and ensure staff are not feeling isolated if they work remotely.

The BMA has published guidance on health and wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic

For more information see NHS Employers guidance on occupational health



Your employer should:

  • ensure staff have access to the IT tools and equipment they need to carry out their duties. They will need to have access to smartcards, systems, online consultation software, remote desktops and additional licenses may need to be purchased
  • encourage remote consultations and home working for at-risk staff and ensure they receive the necessary induction and training to use any software and hardware. When working remotely, staff may require equipment such as headsets (with a mic), webcams, telephones, dongles, tokens, and laptops and access to the networks/WiFi
  • in line with advice from NHSX, allow staff to use personal equipment if there is no practical alternative
  • provide GDPR training where it is requested or deemed necessary. They should clearly outline what constitutes a breach of regulations and where an employer or employee is liable for this.

Read our guidance on video consultations and homeworking.


Raising concerns at work

If you have concerns about patient safety, you have a duty to raise those with management.

Read our guide to raising concerns for more information and support.


Need help? For questions about any aspect of your working life, our advisers are here to help you. Opening times: 8am - 8pm Monday to Friday, and 9am - 5pm on Saturdays.
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