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NHS review backs hike in retirement age to 68 years for GPs

GPs are capable of working full-time well into their 60s without any impact on their ability to treat patients, finds a major NHS-commissioned review that supports Department of Health plans to raise the retirement age for the NHS pension to 68 years.

The review concludes NHS workers are likely to be ‘capable of continuing to work in their existing roles’ until they reach 68 years, although it admits that in some cases they ‘may not be motivated, or otherwise able, to do so’.

The finding effectively extinguishes any hope the BMA had of doctors being exempted from chancellor George Osborne’s plans to increase the retirement age to 65 years by 2015, and subsequently 68 years by 2046, due to the demands of the job.

The Government has ploughed through with controversial plans to increase contributions for high earners in the NHS, including GPs, despite strong BMA opposition that included a day of industrial action last year.

Earlier this year, the BMA said it hoped the Working Longer Review - a group of trade unions, NHS Employers and the Department of Health - would decide that those with physically or mentally demanding jobs could have their retirement age capped earlier.

But an independent review of the evidence by researchers at the University of Bath found that as long as older people are in good health and have up-to-date skills then their performance and capacity for work is roughly the same as younger counterparts.

The report - published this month - looked at the impact on employers and employees of working beyond 60 years and audited relevant research papers and reports, and statistics from the quarterly UK Labour Force Survey, including data on NHS workers.

It concluded: ‘Although there is an association between capacity to work and age, it is not simple and the variation between individuals is large and can be affected by lifestyle factors, non-work sources of stress, and the availability of occupational health support.

‘But the conclusion of the evidence is that people are likely to be capable of continuing to work in their existing roles until they reach the new retirement age, but in practice may not be motivated, or otherwise able, to do so.’

The BMA said in February that the Working Longer Review should be allowed to make ‘genuinely evidence-based recommendations as to whether all or some frontline NHS staff have roles that are particularly physically, mentally and/or emotionally demanding and so should have their normal pension age capped at a lower age’. But this looks to have backfired on the union.

Dr David Bailey, deputy chair of the GPC pensions subcommittee, disputed the findings of the report, saying that it did not look at NHS-specific evidence.

He told Pulse: ‘In general it’s probably true to say that performance does not change after reaching 60. But the audit doesn’t take into account the difference in jobs in the NHS.

‘If you’re in emergency medicine or surgery or complex problem solving jobs then performance or capacity might be affected as you get older. To do certain tasks it could take you a bit longer to get going in the morning.’

Dr Peter Swinyard, chair of the Family Doctor Association and a GP in Swindon, said the research was correct that some could work past 60 years, but others were ‘clapped out’ in their 50s.

He said: ‘We need a flexible approach so that GPs are not forced to retire at a certain age. Some doctors want to carry on until their late 60s or 70s, but others are clapped out in their late 50s. It’s not good for patients if a chap who is demoralised is forced to carry on being a GP.

‘I think if the retirement age for GPs goes up then a lot will take out private pensions and then later on they will retire early.’

The NHS Employers organisation said the Working Longer Review group was considering the recommendations from the researchers’ report and gathering ‘NHS specific evidence’ to create national policy on how the ageing workforce should be managed and how the NHS pension scheme should be modified.

Readers' comments (33)

  • whats the next press release going to be- gps are fine to work nights and weekends

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  • At times the naïveté of the BMA is stunning what did they expect! DOH reviews are heavily influenced by the establishment in the clubs of London ,the NHS pension scheme for doctors is effectively dead after 2015 the return is simply not worth the outlay in 5 years the scheme will be in deficit as financial advisers work out the sums and doctors leave the scheme so in many ways this review is irrelevant

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  • Considering that the future of general practice is going to be part time female doctors, burnout is not going to be a problem.So raising the retirement age is definitely justified and cost saving for the exchequer.

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  • Its a shame but you know.... we can all change careers or move overseas and we can invest our own pension money if we don't like the deal. Anger isn't good for you. Maybe its just time to walk away ?

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  • All the old certainties of General Practice are being broken down, one by one. There's now an urgent need to get out of the NHS and privatise primary care. Its been done with dentistry, university education and pretty much everything else. Time to move into the modern world.

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  • I was at a clinical governance lead meeting a few month back and our guest speaker, ex-clinical director in another area told us of the profile of GPs who often run into clinical governance issue.

    You guessed it, it's older male GPs, who are often within 2-3 years of retirement.

    Part of the problem isn't the capacity to work at the spot. A lot of medical updates/learning, especially in primary care, is done on our own private time. Something other parts of NHS does not do. So, if I'm in my mid 60s, having done yet another 50 hours in a week, would I have enough energy and time to do learning?

    The other is, invariably, we all become a bit old fashioned. It took me 3 years to convince my partners collecting patients email address would be helpful. And they are only in their 40s! I know some of the GPs in their 60s are struggling to use computer based patient records. Can I say I'd be able to use a new technology in my 60s, just as well as my colleagues in their 30s? Probably not.

    And lastly, as I get older, I myself will start to have health problems. How can I provide continuity of care if I'm out for several months with cancer op, joint replacement, angioplasty etc etc. And which insurance policy would cover a self employed GP in their 60s with medical problems? So effectively, having worked hard all my life, I'd be too old to be able to work, but too young to be eligible for pension.

    This government really is trying to kill us GPs

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  • @above
    Same health and productivity arguments apply to any worker.The government is not trying to kill GPs.Its being just in not unfairly discriminating in favour of certain categories of workers.Also the economy can ill afford it.Will you be happy if they kept the current retirement age and slashed your income instead?Either way its going to hit our pockets.

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  • Motivation to work is a complex thing including love of the job itself, altruism and the desire to deliver good outcomes from one's work, personal and professional fulfilment and of course a more pragmatic consideration of earning money to enable paying one's bills.

    It seems to me that the old 'deal' between our (ultimately) government employers and GPs was that we would work ridiculously hard -- need I remind everybody about 1:2 rotas -and if we were lucky enough to last the pace would secure a full pension at the age of 60. In short, the pension was probably the main financial reward.

    The government has now removed the main financial reward and is trying to perpetuate a regime whereby most full-time GP's work in excess of 12 hour days and will be forced to reenter out of hours work as well. Meantime their pay will be progressively cut year-on-year so that their standing in relation to other professionals( some with lesser qualifications and workload) will progressively decline.

    Therefore, I agree with the suggestion that we should not hold on to our anger and instead be pragmatic in our approach -- I predict that those who adopt these principles will elect to leave the NHS pension scheme and take out a private pension which will enable phased retirement from 55 onwards. Personally, like many other bloggers, I think the time has now arrived for our leaders to take similarly pragmatic approach on a wider scale and start debating the pros and cons of resignation/privatisation options for and with the GPs who elect them.

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  • i'm sure some can.
    by the way, i have found some faries at the bottom of my garden.

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  • try reading The Enchiridion ( Greek for manual ,thousands of years old but works well today ) by Epictetus .Quite helpfull as divides problems into two ,ones which you can do nothing about such as external influences ,disease ,other peoples acts and those which you can ie your thoughts and ideas how you percieve the problem and what it is within your power to do..

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