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GPs go forth

Almost 3,000 GPs retired before the age of 60 over the past five years

Exclusive Almost 3,000 GPs have claimed their pension before the age of 60 since April 2013, Pulse can reveal.

According to statistics obtained from NHS Business Services Authority and analysed by Pulse, the average age of those drawing their pensions for the first time has dropped, from 60.4 years in 2011/12 to 58.5 years in 2016/17.

These new figures strike a further blow to the Government’s target of increasing the GP workforce by 5,000 by 2020 – which is already in grave doubt after official figures last year revealed a net loss of 1,200 GPs between September 2016 and September 2017.

Pulse’s figures reveal that there is a trend to more younger GPs claiming their pensions - 721 GPs drew their pension before the age of 60 in 2016/17 compared with 513 in 2011/12.

GP leaders say that early retirees are leaving the profession 'on its knees'.

There have been a number of surveys on GPs retiring earlier, including: a survey by the Medical Defence Union that showed that the proportion of GPs who retire before the age of 60 has increased from one in five (21%) to two in five (39%) since 2011; a BMA survey of 420 GPs in 2014 found that as many as seven out of 10 were considering retiring early because of low morale or ‘unmanageable or unsustainable’ workloads; while a BBC poll of 1,000 GPs in 2015 found 55% would either ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ leave before retirement age.

Last year Health Education England recruited a record number of trainees - 3,157 GP trainees, even though this still fell short of the long-standing target of 3,250 graduates a year.

Despite this, the most recent official NHS Digital figures showed that the overall GP workforce decreased by more than 1,000 between September 2016 and September 2017.

Background to the figures

The figures were obtained by Pulse from NHS Business Authority, which administers pensions.

There are no official statistics on retirement numbers. These figures show how many GPs have begun drawing out their pensions for the first time. This does not directly constitute retirement - a number of GPs who draw their pensions out will be taking '24 hour retirement', where they will be carrying out shifts at the same time as receiving pensions payouts.

However, the BMA’s GP committee pensions lead Dr David Bailey says: ‘If you draw your pension before 60 there’s a significant [financial] hit, so I can’t see why you’d want to do that, rather than wait until you can draw it unreduced, unless you’re actually retiring.’

The figures also show that the total number of GPs drawing their pensions has decreased overall - although the BMA says this is likely because there are fewer older GPs in the workforce overall.

The figures obtained by Pulse show that there is a trend of GPs drawing their pensions out at a younger age. Almost 3,000 GPs have taken their pensions out before the age of 60 since April 2013.

The BMA’s GP committee pensions lead Dr David Bailey said: ‘A significant number are retiring because the indemnity costs involved mean a small amount of part-time work is just no longer a feasible option.’

Dr Anu Rao, medical officer for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland LMC, said the increasing number of GPs ‘fortunate enough’ to draw their pension early leaves ‘a struggling GP workforce on its knees and creates immense pressure on GPs who are currently trying to make general practice work’.

The latest data from NHS Digital on the revised GP retainer scheme – the scheme that incentives GPs who were thinking of leaving to take on extra shifts - shows that as of September 2017, the scheme has only convinced 218 GPs (90 full-time equivalents) to stay on.

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, BMA GP committee workforce lead, said the increasing rate of early retirement is ‘concerning for the stability of the GP workforce’ adding that the problem is compounded by ‘too few trainees’ choosing general practice.

An NHS England spokesperson said ‘fewer GPs took voluntary early retirement last year than in 2013/14 or 2014/15’, but added that ‘it is clearly going to be harder to deal with workload by increasing the number of practising GPs if, despite more GP trainees, a higher number of older GPs decide to leave their practices’.

In figures: GP retirement data

Pension yearNumber of GPs claiming their pension before 60 years old% of GPs claiming their pension who are under 60 years oldAverage age

























 Source: NHS Business Authority

Readers' comments (34)

  • We need our European friends now more than we did before. We need to stop Brexit to increase our workforce.Otherwise our patients will suffer!!!

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  • Nonsense Moosa

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  • And I raise you nonsense Harvey.

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  • Love the NHS England Spokeperson's response: yeah, but in 2014 and 2015 there were even more early retirements.

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  • And also Moosa, of course the only solution is: let's get more doctors from abroad!
    This has worked so well so far, right?

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  • 3000 early retirements. Do you blame them? We’d all do the same if we could.

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  • Of course, the solution when it comes will be to prevent people doing this, rather than discovering why they do.

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  • Do you think they will try chaining us to the galley and beating the drum faster.Good luck with that.

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  • annual allowance tax
    lifetime allowance tax
    complaint culture
    no win no fee
    risk of manslaughter charge
    indemity costs
    reducing pay
    to name a few
    Why not choose self preservation if you can!

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  • AlanAlmond

    It’s not just those close to retirement who want to leave, many folk do. It’s just that those close to retirement have a very solid option to a way out. Who can blame them?
    If this makes it to the wider media, the spin will be greedy Drs with large pensions shirking their ‘duty’. The call will be to prevent Drs leaving by making it somehow illegal to retire early, and/or reduce Dr pensions.
    See how they want to make to tie newly qualified Drs to the NHS and prevent them leaving the country. ‘Make the job even less attractive and simultaneously use rules to force people to stay’ seems to be the mantra, then go looking for naive Drs from abroad to plug the gaps (they are so much easier to blame anyhow when the system causes a screw up)
    If I could have taken retirement I would have. I’m too young but it hasnt stopped me leaving

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