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No increase in GP retirements yet, official figures reveal



Exclusive GPs do not appear to be retiring in ever-increasing numbers – as yet – despite growing concerns about working conditions and detrimental changes to pensions, new figures obtained by Pulse suggest.

A Pulse FOI request to the NHS Business Services Authority, which administers pensions, showed that the number of GPs retiring has remained at around 1,700 annually for the past three years.

In fact, the 2015/16 figures showed that marginally fewer GPs retired last year, when 1,704 retired, compared to 2013/14, when 1,779 GPs retired.

The FOI request further indicated that there had not been a rush to exit the scheme whilst still practicing. Although 637 still-practising GPs quit the scheme in 2015/16, 511 also quit in 2014/15 and 926 the year before that.

The authority also provided figures indicating there was no significant change in the average age of retirement, although these figures included all members of the general practice pension scheme, including for example practice managers as well as GPs.

The average age of retirement was 60.75 years in 2011/12, and decreased to just 60.61 years in 2015/16.

But warnings from profession leaders indicate this may be the calm before the storm.

BMA survey of 16,000 GPs last year found that 34% were thinking of retiring from the GP profession in the next five years.

This fear seemed to be confirmed by a backlog in pension awards in May when the NHS Business Services Authority was forced to apologise for delays in processing pensions, putting part of the blame on the various tax changes to the Annual Allowance and Life Time Allowance.

At the time, Dr David Bailey, the deputy chair of the GPC pensions subcommittee, said that the backlog was partly down to the ‘sheer number’ of GPs now looking to take their pension early.

And some GPs believe that we are heading towards a ‘perfect storm’ in the next few years, which will see an increase in the numbers of retirements.

Family Doctor Association chairman Dr Peter Swinyard said the reason the retirement timebomb has not gone off is because GPs are either unable to do so financially or they do not want to leave their practice because it would mean that patients will be left without a GP.

He added: ‘We have this perfect storm of GPs wanting to leave and nobody wanting to step into their place. Within two or three years it could all fall apart and there could be parts of England that don’t have a GP service.’

Dr Robert Morley, executive secretary of Birmingham LMC, said he was aware of ‘many GPs partners who wish they could take early retirement but are prevented from doing so because of the extent of the crisis in the profession’, including problems in finding partners to take over, an inability to sell premises and concern over redundancies. 

Dr Morley said that there are a number of partners who have chosen alternative career paths, which would not be be reflected in these figures, while the early retirement figures ‘will inevitably worsen over the coming years’ as the GP crisis intensifies.

The Department of Health said that incentives for GPs to remain in work, along with initiatives to cut red tape and improve working conditions, might be helping prevent GPs retiring.

A spokesperson said: ‘We saw an increase in the number of doctors who took up GP training places last year. This was partly thanks to a successful GP recruitment campaign, led by Health Education England, in partnership with the RCGP.

‘We are also offering more support for those who wish to return to the profession and are developing specialist training opportunities to help attract doctors from other specialties into the profession.

‘There are also many changes being made to help reduce bureaucracy for GPs and further improve working conditions.’

Retirements remaining stable

Financial Year Total general practice scheme members retired in period (includes non-GPs)
Average age of retirement

2011-12

                               3,315

         60.75

2012-13

                               3,305

         60.70

2013-14

                               3,503

         60.59

2014-15

                               3,631

         60.50

2015-16

                               3,514

         60.61

The number of currently active GMPs (GPs only) who opted out of the NHS Pension scheme

2013/14

2014/15

2015/16

2016 to date

 

 

926

511

637

51

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The number of GMPs (GPs only) who retired

 

 

 

 

 

2013/14

2014/15

2015/16

2016 to date

 

 

1,779

1,697

1,704

171

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total number of GMP members (GPs only) of the scheme at the end of the time period

 

2013/14

2014/15

2015/16

2016/17

 

 

 

32,036

33,340

35,173

n/a

 

 

 

Source: Two separate freedom of information requests to the NHS Business Services Authority