The number of GPs retiring before 60 has slowed down, according to the latest set of figures from the NHS pension scheme.
In 2017/18 the number of GPs taking early retirement was 588 compared to 721 in 2016/17 and 695 the year before. It is the lowest number claiming their pension early since 2011/12.
The figures were released by health minister Stephen Hammond in a written answer after Nicholas Soames, Conservative MP for Mid Sussex, asked about the impact of changes to the pension cap on doctors leaving the NHS.
The statistics come from the 1995 NHS Pension Scheme, which takes 60 as the normal retirement age.
The most recent year – 2017/18 – was only the sixth highest for GPs taking early retirement in the last eight years. The two highest years were 2013/14 and 2014/15 with 746 and 739 GPs retiring early respectively.
The minister’s answer include a caveat: ‘Claiming an NHS pension does not necessarily mean the individual has left NHS service permanently.
’The “retire and return” employment flexibility enables NHS employers to support skilled and experienced staff who may otherwise retire and leave service to continue working longer.’
Despite the slowdown since last year there is little room for complacency about early retirements. In February Pulse revealed that the average age of those drawing their pensions for the first time had dropped to 58.5 years, down from 60.4 years in 2011/12.
Dr Chandra Kanneganti, BMA GP committee lead on workload issues, said he was ’surprised’ by the figures.
He suggested doctors may be waiting to see if new Government initiatives bring about positive changes before retiring, such as the ongoing review to boost attractiveness of GP partnership, and the state indemnity scheme due to come in from April.
But according to Dr Kanneganti, unless the problems of workload and stress were sorted out GPs would continue to opt for early retirement.
He said: ‘My belief is [early retirement] will generally go up sooner rather than later. This may be a one-off.’