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Government plans to increase the NHS retirement age to 65 could jeopardise efforts to improve recruitment and retention through the new contract, the BMA has warned.

GP leaders have expressed fears that the move could create yet another 'retirement timebomb', prompting a mass exodus of GPs from the profession before the changeover for existing doctors in 2013.

The concerns came as a BMA survey of 4,721 doctors found three out of four would leave the NHS on or before the date they intended if pension age was increased from 60 to 65.

The survey also found that one in two doctors thought an increase in normal pension age would deter graduates from joining the NHS.

The minimum age a pension can currently be taken from the NHS scheme without financial penalty is 60. But the Government intends to increase this to 65 for new employees from 2006 and existing staff from 2013.

Dr Simon Fradd, chair of the BMA's pensions committee and a GP in Nottingham, said the plans could result in 'really quite disastrous increased retirement from the NHS'.

He added: '2013 will be a very critical time, and 2006 could be critical in recruitment terms, although it may not be apparent at the time. There may be a failure over five years to replace outgoing doctors.'

Some GPs due to turn 60 just after the change in 2013 had said they would retire earlier to avoid having to work for an extra five years before they could take their pensions, Dr Fradd said.

He added the new contract had been designed not only to improve patient care but also to address problems of recruitment and retention through improved morale.

Dr Christine Carr, a GP in Wetherby, West Yorkshire, said that most GPs would 'probably leave when they are ready and accept the financial consequences'.

Dr Carr, 45, said retiring early 'would be an option' but added she would have to weigh up the various alternatives when retirement was more imminent. 'I don't approve ­ it should be kept as it is.'

By Cato Pedder

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