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Pulse 2018 review: The growing attraction of early retirement

the great escape cover pulse final 3x2

the great escape cover pulse final 3x2

Plans to increase the GP workforce seem doomed to fail.

With a year left to reach the Government's target of having trained and retained an extra 5,000 GPs since September 2015, overall numbers are in fact falling.

As of September 2018, the number of full-time equivalent GPs was still 387 below the 34,592 in the workforce in September 2015.

Pulse revealed back in February that a compelling reason for this trend is more GPs are retiring and drawing a pension at a younger age.

Official NHS pension scheme figures showed that in 2016-17 some 721 GPs under 60 drew their pension for the first time, a 41% of increase on the 2011-12 figure of 513.

The average age of pension claimants fell from 60.4 years to 58.5 years in the same period.

While the latest figures on the number of GPs retiring early show some signs of improvement - in 2017-18, a total of 588 drew their pensions before age 60 - GPs have still warned that unless the problems of workload and stress were addressed GPs would continue to opt for early retirement.

And the upshot? Despite more trainees than ever before entering the profession, incentive schemes to bring leavers back into it, and the NHS boosting numbers of GPs from overseas, early retirees are tipping the balance the other way.

As a result, pressures become even greater on GPs left holding the baby, as they try to keep their practices together. 

In some areas, supply fails to meet demand and practices end up closing, leaving thousands without a GP.

In others, workload is reaching potentially dangerous levels – with GPs having 60% more patient contacts per day than the European Union of General Practitioners considers safe.

Paradoxically, workload pressures are not just a consequence of GPs retiring or cashing in their pensions before their turn 60. They are also the leading cause.

Early retirees cite workload above all else as a factor in their decision, and half of respondents to a Pulse survey said work stress affects their ability to care for patients.

Other reasons GPs give for retiring early include: poor mental health; high indemnity costs and taxation; regulatory burden; a 15% annual slash in seniority payments (ahead of their abolition in the next year); and fear of being the ‘last (wo)man standing’, which would see them lumbered with premises and staff liabilities with no one rising through the ranks to take them over.

Earlier this year, the BMA said it was looking at potential solutions, including launching an initiative aimed at dissuading GPs from taking early retirement.

But this will only work if the bigger issue of making general practice an attractive place to work is addressed - so that more young doctors enter the profession, and fewer leave before their time.

Readers' comments (19)

  • With around 200,000 patient contacts under my belt (and one complaint), and knowing that the next sick kid could make you the next Bawa Garba, I'm feeling ready to retire early.

    Have worked more hours in 30 year medical career than most people work in an entire lifetime (other than slaves and third world sweat shops). And still do a good job

    Pension cap forced me out of scheme, can't boost retirement income so why go on? Friends say 'but you have a vocation' as though my overblown sense of responsibility and altruism somehow compels me to work until I drop. I suspect I can find a new vocation to do something else!

    Job has become a thankless grind. Discharge letter today 'GP to check LFTs twice a week', batting back this stuff ten times a day is sometimes even more work than just giving in to it. School wants a letter, university wants a letter, chiropracteur wants a referral, don't feel like going on holiday that you booked? just GANFYD. Yes, you can charge the poor, the sick and the stupid for a letter, but it is the constant deluge of these tasks that is the problem. GP is at the narrow end of a gigantic funnel.

    Despite years of experience, still have to come up with annual 'personal development plan' with the inference that nothing that you do is quite good enough. Appraisers have been complicit with this emasculation of the profession. Mandatory fire extinguisher training, and the endless stream of toilet that comes down from NHSE PHE CCG and anyone else trying to justify their salary add to the pain.

    The occasional free sandwich, post-it note or ballpoint from the pharmaceutical industry has been banned, sometimes the only nice thing that happened in a day, stopping it doesn't seem to have made the world any better.

    Patients who have had 20+ appointments in a year complaining that 'I can never get to see you'. Denigration of GP by politicians and all facets of the media. Probably only traffic wardens attract more disdain

    Now got that off my chest, Happy New Year to all Pulse Readers - Copernicus

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  • doctordog.

    Don’t mind the increased hostility and litigious environment , CQC, appraisals and revalidation,etc etc,
    What I do object to is giving so much of my earnings to HMRC-especially via the reduction in lifetime allowance.
    No incentive to work beyond this.

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  • Took Early Retirement

    Yes, I too left, AND I have a Honda Cross-Runner!

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  • Do the sums! Took my pension at 57 - yes there's an actuarial reduction because of age - but factor in not paying contributions + 3 years extra of pension received prior to NPA and I will be 77 before I'm any worse off financially compared with waiting til 60 to take pension!! Bought myself a tiger sport 1050 :))

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  • Only marrying and having kids perhaps comes close to the feeling of joyous relief you get at retirement.
    Really what you are talking about is the shape of a Gaussian distribution curve.
    Appraisal/pdp'/CQC etc just push you totally over the hump and down the Right side.
    Knowing you have left all that Sh-- behind is so,so cathartic because deep down we all know- no other country puts its Dr's through this- we won't be doing it either in 10 years time.

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  • Hit LTA at 58, took 24 hour retiral on 59th birthday and dropped from 9 sessions to 4 ( 2 day working week and 5 day weekends ). Might have gone on until 65 but untimely death of two brothers one 60 and one 59 made my mind up Retired fully in December 2017 and never looked back.

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  • Same feeling as the fellow GPs. When you work harder, you pay more tax,more MDU fees and lose the tax free allowance and by taking on more risks. One risks becoming the next Barwa Garba too earning nothing. A lot of GPs have decided not to see patients now going into training and the CCG due to the risks.

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  • You can't unboil a frog

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  • KTM990 great but not cheap to run, Suzuki Gixer 750 ace track weapon, Enfield Bullet for fun and laughter (from others) and a run back to it's manufacturing site. Life's a bike ride it.

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