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GPs bring forward their retirement plans in looming crisis for profession

Exclusive Almost half of GPs have brought forward their retirement plans compared with five years ago, as worsening morale and rising workload takes its toll on the profession, a Pulse survey shows.

The survey of 364 GPs found 43% are looking to retire earlier than they intended five years ago, with the average GP intending to down tools at age 61 years.

Only 19% of GPs predicted they would continue in the profession beyond 64 years, despite the Government reforms to pensions meaning some junior doctors would be forced to work until 68 to get their pension.

The GPC warned this was a trend that would add to the current GP shortages in some areas, and it follows LMCs saying in January that half of GPs are considering quitting general practice due to the Government’s planned contract changes.

Respondents to the Pulse survey said they had made the decision as general practice was reaching ‘crisis point’, with pay freezes, spiralling QOF work and the Government’s pensions reforms pushing them to quit earlier.

Of the GPs who responded to the survey, 30% said they planned to retire at 55 to 59 years, 44% at 60 to 64 years and 12% at 65 to 70 years. Some 5% said they would continue working as a GP past 70 years.

Some 43% said they had decided to retire earlier than they had planned five years ago, 48% said their retirement plans remained unchanged from five years ago, and 9% said they were unsure.

GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman said rising early retirement rates would worsen the rising workforce crisis in the profession revealed by Pulse last month, with GP vacancy rates quadrupling in the past two years.

Dr Buckman said it was an ‘inevitable corollary’ of the way the Government had treated the profession.

He told Pulse: ‘The contractual changes and the pressure of work related to that, the inability to earn a living, the changes to GP pensions and the capping of pensions more generally, as well as revalidation. Between all of those, there are now a lot of reasons why GPs will consider premature retirement.

‘There will be less GPs as a result.’

Dr Nigel Watson, chair of the GPC commissioning and service development subcommittee and chief executive of Wessex LMCs, said earlier retirement of older GPs would undermine the profession.

He said: ‘I have practices with three or four doctors going soon and so the younger GPs will have to take on the responsibilities of partnership, and they’ll struggle.

‘The exodus is quite significant. In any year you’ll always have a cohort of GPs that have done their time, but the feel that’s different this year. The decision to leave is with regret- but they can’t work like this anymore.’

Dr Richard Kippax, a GP in Herefordshire, said the NHS reforms and the most recent contract changes were behind his decision to retire earlier.

He said: ‘I think more than anything what is influencing me to plan to retire early is how the GP contract has been steadily eroded ever since its introduction. What is such a shame is that I still enjoy trying to do a decent job for the patient in front of me.’

Dr Jyotsana Patel, a GP in Wembley, north west London, said he would retire in six weeks due to the strains on his health.

He told Pulse: ‘The reason is the seamless amounts of work that has been dumped on me, without thought of capacity for that sort of increase.

‘I am pleased I can turn my life around finally and save my health and sanity.’

Dr Sally Dowler, a GP in Tottenham, north London, said the rising de-professionalisation of GPs was behind her decision to quit general practice earlier than planned.

She said: ‘Scrips, monitoring, doing hospital ‘errands’ as per their letters, medical reports, sitting on committees and constant need to prove that my skills and knowledge are good enough - despite no hint of evidence to the contrary - is getting quite demoralising.’

Readers' comments (23)

  • I can concur with everything in this article and am planning to resign my partnership at the age of 54.
    I have a very deep sympathy for the GPs who are left and for those who would like to go but can't for financial reasons. I consider myself very lucky.

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  • Dr Sally Dowlers sums it up perfectly:
    ‘Scrips, monitoring, doing hospital ‘errands’ as per their letters, medical reports, sitting on committees and constant need to prove that my skills and knowledge are good enough - despite no hint of evidence to the contrary - is getting quite demoralising.’

    Gosh i wonder how i'm gonna survive the next 20 years! I really envy you lot who are close to retiring.

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  • Sometimes hard not to go down the conspiracy theory path: Govt reorganises NHS - again; changes contracts - again; lowers morale - again. Meantime, fragments NHS; puts pressure on GPs - new commissioning roles; encourages private health care insurance = two tier service, and private predators swoop. how many GP practices now owned not by partners but by big companies? Just look at vested interest in parliament in private health. Sorry, hard not to be cynical! But have to stick in there...

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  • I am an experienced nurse and health visitor in North West Wiltshire who was forced to retire early from my health visitor post after 39 years in the NHS. I also worked for a GP out of hours service as a Nurse Advisor but this came to an end in mid February due to the contract being moved.
    If you are a GP practice in the area and would welcome some help from an experience nurse please contact me on 07801 365827.

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  • WIth each passing year, I am even more relieved that I made the decision to retire at 57 - I got fed up with spending such a large amount of my working day bashing away at a computer. The final straw was my Mental Health Register increasing from 6 patients to 232 overnight as a result of the then government changing the codes, so that even Read codes with text entries ending in "no psychosis" were being treated by the "population manager" as if they were psychotic! Many, many hours were wasted in trying to correct this anomaly, which meant backtracking to every single consultation with these patients to change the codes, recording when and why the codes were changed, but then to find that I was still stuck with 30 excess patient in the register. I finally exception coded these patients as advised by my system supplier. One week after retirement I was obliged to have a meeting with the medical director of the PCT to explain my " high level of exception coding" - his only comment having agreed with my figures was "now you know why I have handed in my resignation!"

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  • I find it strange how we doctors have taken the trashing and particularly the dehumanising of the most challenging job in medicine (general practice) without a much more vigorous response. That experienced GPs are choosing to retire instead of going on practising and helping neophytes with their experience and wisdom is nothing short of tragic. In doing this (and who can blame them?) they leave a message that is crystal clear to the rest of us: This is not why we trained to become doctors.

    How we have allowed ourselves to be bullied by bureaucrats and non-practising virtucrats into abandoning the obvious collective power we have, is very sad indeed.

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  • Hazel Drury

    Jenny Nicoll - "forcing" you to retire seems foolish. My practice nurse turned 70 today - I'd be lost without her in depth knowledge of medicine and the know how of someone who has seen so many changes after 51 years in the NHS.
    Good luck with your job hunt! whoever gets you will be lucky :-)

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  • i retired four years ago at the age of 60 with the intention of continuing part time work. After being a sessional GP I have become a partner again in a new practice where my expertise is highly valued and encouraged. I am still only part time but loving it. I have just been revalidated so can continue for a while.

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  • really interesting perspective article.

    http://www.clairewand.org/images/BirthOfTheNHS.pdf

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  • @Anonymous | 08 April 2013 10:48am

    Have you ever heard Clare Gerada speak? Its because our representative bodies are inhabited by bleeding hearts.

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