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The waiting game

No increase in GP retirements yet, official figures reveal

Exclusive GPs do not appear to be retiring in ever-increasing numbers - as yet - despite growing concerns about working conditions and detrimental changes to pensions, new figures obtained by Pulse suggest.

A Pulse FOI request to the NHS Business Services Authority, which administers pensions, showed that the number of GPs retiring has remained at around 1,700 annually for the past three years.

In fact, the 2015/16 figures showed that marginally fewer GPs retired last year, when 1,704 retired, compared to 2013/14, when 1,779 GPs retired.

The FOI request further indicated that there had not been a rush to exit the scheme whilst still practicing. Although 637 still-practising GPs quit the scheme in 2015/16, 511 also quit in 2014/15 and 926 the year before that.

The authority also provided figures indicating there was no significant change in the average age of retirement, although these figures included all members of the general practice pension scheme, including for example practice managers as well as GPs.

The average age of retirement was 60.75 years in 2011/12, and decreased to just 60.61 years in 2015/16.

But warnings from profession leaders indicate this may be the calm before the storm.

BMA survey of 16,000 GPs last year found that 34% were thinking of retiring from the GP profession in the next five years.

This fear seemed to be confirmed by a backlog in pension awards in May when the NHS Business Services Authority was forced to apologise for delays in processing pensions, putting part of the blame on the various tax changes to the Annual Allowance and Life Time Allowance.

At the time, Dr David Bailey, the deputy chair of the GPC pensions subcommittee, said that the backlog was partly down to the 'sheer number’ of GPs now looking to take their pension early.

And some GPs believe that we are heading towards a 'perfect storm' in the next few years, which will see an increase in the numbers of retirements.

Family Doctor Association chairman Dr Peter Swinyard said the reason the retirement timebomb has not gone off is because GPs are either unable to do so financially or they do not want to leave their practice because it would mean that patients will be left without a GP.

He added: 'We have this perfect storm of GPs wanting to leave and nobody wanting to step into their place. Within two or three years it could all fall apart and there could be parts of England that don’t have a GP service.'

Dr Robert Morley, executive secretary of Birmingham LMC, said he was aware of 'many GPs partners who wish they could take early retirement but are prevented from doing so because of the extent of the crisis in the profession', including problems in finding partners to take over, an inability to sell premises and concern over redundancies. 

Dr Morley said that there are a number of partners who have chosen alternative career paths, which would not be be reflected in these figures, while the early retirement figures ‘will inevitably worsen over the coming years’ as the GP crisis intensifies.

The Department of Health said that incentives for GPs to remain in work, along with initiatives to cut red tape and improve working conditions, might be helping prevent GPs retiring.

A spokesperson said: 'We saw an increase in the number of doctors who took up GP training places last year. This was partly thanks to a successful GP recruitment campaign, led by Health Education England, in partnership with the RCGP.

'We are also offering more support for those who wish to return to the profession and are developing specialist training opportunities to help attract doctors from other specialties into the profession.

'There are also many changes being made to help reduce bureaucracy for GPs and further improve working conditions.'

Retirements remaining stable

Financial YearTotal general practice scheme members retired in period (includes non-GPs)
Average age of retirement
















The number of currently active GMPs (GPs only) who opted out of the NHS Pension scheme




2016 to date

















The number of GMPs (GPs only) who retired









2016 to date

















Total number of GMP members (GPs only) of the scheme at the end of the time period
















Source: Two separate freedom of information requests to the NHS Business Services Authority

Readers' comments (20)

  • My older colleagues are not retiring because we are begging them not to and their loyalty to the profession and patients stopped them. It does not mean they are liking it. Everyone has their limits which the government is pushing hard.

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  • I just don't believe the figures. There are definitely less partners. Locums are increasing in numbers. No one wants to be a partner. The activity is not like for like.
    Mr Hunt will manipulate these figures.

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  • Peter Swinyard

    and these figures do not take account of doctors cutting their hours or clinical days. A traditional 5-day a week, 10 clinical sessions workload is undoable for most - and certainly becomes harder as you go to the wrong side of 60 as I know all too well...

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  • Does this take account of those like me who are retiring, just not taking our pensions yet as doing other things?

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  • We all know this is the end of MR Hunt- his pollitical career is effectively over .So who really cares what he has to say.

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  • I was 90kg when fat. I am still 90kg but no longer have any fat on me. Hunt would say I am still the same. Say that to my face Hunty boy.

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  • Barking dogs seldom bite

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  • Vinci Ho

    The focus of attention should not be just retirement . The question is how many vacancies left behind were filled or empty? The hardship of general practice is multiplied by number of years ahead of you . By default , it is more about our youngsters joining the actual frontline and the number of those taking up training does not tell the whole story whether vacancies will be filled.

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  • If they base their decisions on those figures then they will have a nasty surprise.

    Many are biding their time and will take their pensions when they are not so actuarially reduced.

    I was a partner. I am now salaried with reduced sessions and I intend to take my pension when I am 55. Perhaps others are made of sterner stuff, but I will no longer put up with the horrendous working conditions.

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  • @Vinci Ho

    GP recruitment is up

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  • Depends how you read the figures...

    Retirements are up 7% post HASC Act 2013 when compared to the 2 previous years.

    It also takes no account for the FTE of those who are retiring.

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  • I don't believe these figures either! Government bodies have a habit of manipulating figures to suit themselves! Could it be that there are are no more GPs left in primary care to retire anyway! However I'll be retiring in the next 6 months so they can add one more to those figures!

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  • At a wedding this weekend and the three GPs I met there said that they and their colleagues have reduced their hours/ dropped partnerships and taken on new things with a view to dropping rest of GP hours if they need or want to. Unheard of 10 years ago.

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  • How did abolishing seniority and making practices responsible for the employers'pension contribution of locums encouage older/more experienced GPs to stay in practice?
    In 1990, Kenneth Clarke's new GP contract forced retirement at 70 - and there was a huge outcry.
    What have successive governments done to make retirement below 60 such a desirable option?

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  • Not believable. I suspect counting people drawing the pension is not a good way to count your workforce.

    There are more retired anaesthetists than 50+ Year old GP Partners where I live.

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  • I am 68 in 2 months.
    How can I retire when now for 18 months we have been advertising (BMJ included) for 3 doctors and not a single application?
    If I retire, the workload on the rest will be so large that they will start resigning and soon they will have to give the surgery keys to NHS England.
    I WANT to retire to get a life but can I?

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  • @9:12.

    Very simple really.

    Dear Chums. I am knackered and I'm 68. The cavalry are not coming. So I'm done. Here's my notice and I'll have my dosh as soon as you can muster it. Sorry if it lands you in the brown stuff, but for Petes sake, I'm 68, this cannot be a surprise. Everyone of you would do the same in my position. Best of luck.

    You've done your bit. You owe them and your patients nothing.

    Only when dominos fall will anything be done.

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  • I've been trying to leave the pension scheme for months as:
    1) I'm near the cap (being too young at 48 to have benefitted from the 'protection' that the 50's got)
    2) I have no confidence at all that HMGov are actually going to pay me the pension that I have contributed. Remember Dodgy Dave 'we're all in it together? Only right that those who have more pay more' etc
    3)I need the money now so that I can cut down my sessions due to chronic autoimmune illness exacerbated by pressure of the job

    But PCSE at Darlington tell me that they have a huge backlog of unopened mail and don't know when my form will be processed. I know of several other colleagues in the same situation, so I don't trust the figures at all.
    And every one of us that stops paying in to this Ponzi scheme means the pensions bill gets bigger. Don't try telling me that the Gov can't renege on our pensions, because they have changed everything else unilaterally
    PS usually post with name, but don't wish my appraiser to attribute this post to me

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  • Took Early Retirement

    Hmmmmm..... well, what it may show is that most GPs are good at whingeing, and "thinking" about leaving, but don't do it, and HMG knows this, so GPs get walked over, and then come back for more.

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  • A very interesting FOI request. I wonder that these data are not routinely published.

    The evidence base says that the best predictor of retirement is "intention to retire".

    Multiple sources show increased retention to retire, some of these surveys include questions about whether intentions have been backed up with action: e.g. taking financial planning advice regarding intending retirement plans.

    Retirement does not prevent further participation in the GP workforce - though many that I have spoken to indicate that the relief at stopping clinical work is so great that most retention inducements would not work.

    None the less, if we could retain retired GPs in some other capacity this might support the clinical workforce who remain. The GP workforce that remains deserves some real support, especially in our most under-doctored areas and areas at greatest workforce risk.

    Did your FOI request include the age of retirement and, if so, has the age that pensions are taken by GPs shifted at all over recent years?

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