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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)

  • I retired at 55 in 2015. Shut our Practice and moved on. Its been a better 3 years than the 5 years prior to shutting the "shop" I locum 3 sessions a week and draw my pension as like others had reached the LTL. I recommend it ! There is little support for failing Practices. You have to look after yourself. Drop dead at work and there will be a locum there next day . Oh and June Morris I love King Creosote !

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  • It would be interesting to see another column in your table stating the average gross pension/external fund transfer ( since the piece states 'personal pension'). Without such numbers the story has little traction.

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  • Average retirement age for female GPs in NE England = 40.

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  • Just Your Average Joe

    3157 trainees in - reckon as an estimate 1600 WTE out on an optimistic day for a snow flake falling in hell.

    With huge numbers not choosing to work at all, part time if your lucky, locum without any commitments - allowing them to take off school holidays, with a few venturing to salaried or partnership.

    With full time GPs retiring - you are not replacing like for like, so prove my estimates to be out, but no chance you will be increasing overall numbers with current strategies and recruitment.

    Need more male GPs to ensure at least 50% entry into medical schools - and GP only medical schools where entrants are only going to exit as GPs.

    Try that and maybe you might get closer to the outcome needed for survival of primary care - but only if you reverse the long list of issues mentioned by:

    '1988 graduate | Locum GP01 Feb 2018 9:43am

    annual allowance tax
    lifetime allowance tax
    complaint culture
    no win no fee
    risk of manslaughter charge
    indemity costs
    reducing pay '

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  • Very soon only CCG goons and LMC cardigans will be left with their NHSE buddies, Amen.

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  • I’m sure the DoH is working tirelessly to prevent further early retirements by placing new changes to our pension. I’ve been told I may be able to retire when I’m 68, or maybe 69. I’m sure that will go up as I get nearer to retirement.

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  • Retired at 58 yrs old, gave up medical registration . NO REGRETS . No appraisals, no defence subs , no threat of litigation or complaints , no 12 hr days and still not able to complete all the work or stop patients moaning . Pension changes discourage GPs from working until 60 .Gp trainees will not work full-time or become partners and so will not replace the retiring workforce .

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  • All I can say is I'm glad I did it! Looking back I just don't know how any of us could work the way that we were / are expected to do. Retirement is great - I strongly recommend it!

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  • Took Early Retirement

    And don't forget the genius who decided to phase out seniority.

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  • Edoardo Cervoni

    The data presented confirm in full my observations “on the field”. I hope to be wrong, but early retirements may be coupled by an exodus of young and less young colleagues of unforeseen magnitude. This being the case, the outlook of NHS funded primary care and secondary care is not that good at all and even a substantial amount of money being poured in it could then lessen the professional pressures - and risks.

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