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.