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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.’