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Retire to the back office

Despite the overwhelming success of the BMA’s campaign against plans to renegotiate our pension contracts, it would appear that most of us will have to defer our retirement anyway. We’ll carry on dragging our drooping, saggy arses to work until the Tuesday following the first bank holiday after 5 April in our 68th year.

Or something like that – my accountant was on the other line to Jimmy Carr when I spoke to him, and I wasn’t sure whether his advice was meant for me or the bulbous-faced, stand-up tax avoider.

The problem is that patients – whose every whim seems to become official Department of Health policy within hours – reckon that hospital doctors reach a performance peak shortly after puberty. Put an acne-ridden teenager into a white coat, stick him into the local casualty department and patients will hang upon his every word. They don’t want any of the ‘wait and see’ crapola that their cranky old GP dishes out. Instead, they’re right with Peter Pan MBBS when he tells them that their runny noses need CT-scanning and follow-up in ENT outpatients. GP to arrange, yeah?

Things are nearly as bad in the real world, where patient surveys show that they consider the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything – or rather ‘how old is the perfect GP?’ – to be 42.

Before that, doctors are wet behind the ears but still ideally suited to work in hospital.

Beyond the magic number, we’re on the slippery slope to senescence, alcoholism, mid-life crises and an overwhelming desire to jack the whole thing in before the form filling takes over from medicine altogether.

As some of you may know, I am over 42 years old. I had planned to work until the age of 60, if only because on average, a GP who leaves work at that age can enjoy a dozen years in retirement.

Actuaries say that GPs who work on to 65 are most likely to die at 67, which doesn’t bode well for plans to make us work till 68.

I don’t want to be a doctor when I’m 68 (though I’ll hang on to the courtesy title, thanks very much). And no offence, but I really don’t want my GP to be 68 when I’m 68 either. I don’t play golf, have no grandchildren and harbour an intense dislike of Werther’s Originals. My doctor and I would have virtually nothing in common, apart from annoying aches and pains, failing eyesight and a gender-based 50-50 chance of increasingly inconvenient nocturia.

And even appreciating the benefits that clinical experience can bring, if I don’t want a 68-year-old doctor, then I’ll bet that the patients will feel the same way – ‘I’m not gonna see no pervy old git/doddery old bat…’, delete as appropriate.

The Government’s preferred solution to this thorny little problem: allow GPs with over 30 years’ service to retire gracefully and enjoy some quality downtime, or take them up the back passage?

I’ll give you a clue – it’s not the graceful retirement bit. It’s the back office for us. Filled with boxes of useless paperwork, computers groaning with QOF reminders and a bag of Werther’s Originals on the desktop.

Welcome to hell, old chap. This is what you’ve worked for.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield