Can I join the 2015 NHS pension scheme?

You may be questioning whether you can join the NHS pension scheme if you left employment and wish to return. You may also be a new doctor and want to know more about the available pension schemes.

Location: England
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Tuesday 7 March 2023
Piggybank illustration

Eligibility to join the NHS pension scheme

Since 1 April 2022 all active prospective membership from that date is in the 2015 career average revalued earnings (CARE) scheme. Members in scope of the McCloud Remedy will have their service in the remedy period (1 April 2015 to 31 March 2022) reverted to their legacy scheme (1995 or 2008 section) and at retirement all members in scope, including those who had been fully protected and did not join the 2015 CARE scheme until 1 April 2022, will have the choice on whether to have their remedy period service accrue in the legacy or reformed scheme.

Members who do not have a break in pensionable service of 5 years or more from their transition to the 2015 CARE scheme will continue to maintain a final salary link to their 1995/2008 section benefits meaning that these will be based on prospective pay for officers or continue to be dynamised for GPs.

From 1st April 2023 members who have already retired and returned to NHS employment or those who plan to retire on or after this date will be able join/continue in the 2015 CARE scheme. Prior to 1st April 2023, 1995 Section members were unable to rejoin the NHS Pension scheme after claiming their 1995 Section benefits with the exception of those with a break in their pensionable service of 5 years or more or those who rejoined before age 50 following ill health retirement.

From 1 April 2023, first time joiners and rejoiners are eligible for membership of the 2015 scheme if they are between the ages of 16 and 75 and fall into one of the following categories:

  • directly employed by the NHS
  • self employed GP
  • GP practice employee
  • medical, dental or ophthalmic practitioner, including trainees
  • freelance locum GP
  • employee working for an approved employer (subject to satisfying the conditions of the direction arrangements – see below)
  • employee of an independent provider holding a standard APMS (alternative provider of medical services) contract or local authority NHS contract. 


Joining a pension scheme when you start work

Membership of an NHS pension scheme is automatic if you are directly employed by the NHS (this includes salaried GPs/type 2 GPs), or if you are a GP principal (Type 1) and are eligible to join/rejoin.

If you are eligible to join/rejoin but do not wish to you can 'opt out' by completing a form to this effect.

Membership of the scheme is available but not automatic if you are working as a GP locum. 

​Membership of the scheme is available but not automatic if you are working for a non-NHS body which has ‘direction’ status. 


Which NHS pension scheme you will join

If you are joining the NHS for the first time or rejoining after 1 April 2023 and are eligible to join you will join the 2015 scheme.


Joining a pension scheme as a secondary care locum doctor

If you are working directly for the NHS this work is pensionable if you are eligible to join a NHS pension scheme.

Please note that any work contracted through a third party, such as a locum agency, will not usually be pensionable in the NHS pension scheme unless the agency facilitates a ‘direct engagement’ model.


Joining a pension scheme as a GP locum

You are eligible to join the NHS pension scheme.

However, the onus is on you to complete the GP locum forms within the deadline of 10 weeks of completing the work in order to pension those earnings in the scheme.

You are not able to join the NHS pension scheme if you have set yourself up as a limited company on an individual basis.

GP locum pensions guidance


If you transfer to a private provider

If you are subject to a compulsory transfer your employment should be subject to the 'fair deal' agreement. This means that you can continue in the NHS pension scheme.

The fair deal arrangement