I have always assumed that, of the partners in my practice, I would be the first one into the lifeboat. The three of us are much of an age, although I am the youngest by a year or two. But after my cardiac event or three, details of which need not detain us here (other than to say they were not entirely unrelated to stress), I thought I would be the first to give it up and get out while there was still time.
I was wrong. Last week my partner Ian dropped his bombshell on us. ‘I’m out of here. I’ve had enough of all this shite,’ were his exact words, and when he reaches 55 next year, he is giving it all up.
He’s a brilliant doctor. Clinically astute, vastly experienced, loved by the patients, diligent, hard-working, my friend, and a man whom I have never seen angry or at a loss. In a quarter of a century, he has had two days off sick – although to be honest we thought playing the pneumonia card was a bit weak and he could probably have made it in if he’d really tried.
But he’s had enough. At 55. That might seem a tad young, but Ian, like me, did 10 years in hospital medicine on a one-in-three rota, and years doing all his own out-of-hours in general practice, so we have both already put in around two lifetimes of 40-hour weeks. I can see where he’s coming from.
What makes him want to leave? How have things changed at the practice? Let me count the ways.
We were never a particularly high-earning organisation. We never quite managed the six-figure income so beloved of the Daily Mail readership, but we were doing OK. Average, maybe. But for 12 years now, there has been no increase in our funding other than a few derisory sub-inflation uplifts. Our drawings were frozen for a decade, until we bit the bullet and took a 20% cut in our income.
That wasn’t enough. We developed a £100,000 overdraft, which has to be corrected by the three of us putting our own money back in. In effect, this means I work for nothing for six months, yet somehow I still owe £14,000 income tax on the money I’m not getting. My accountants assure me this is right, ludicrous though it seems to someone as financially innumerate as I am.
Our two NLDs (Nice Lady Doctors) are already out of here for pastures less depressing, one to Australia and the other to teach in a university. One of them was our trainer, so we now have no registrar either.
And, as always, the workload is increasing. The number of consultations at my practice has doubled over the past decade, with no way to deal with it other than to get your head down and see ‘em. All the bloody satisfaction has been leeched out of the job that once inspired me, that I once loved.
We won’t get another partner. One glance at our accounts tells me no one will be foolish enough to take on this depressing behemoth, where the salaried doctors earn far more than we do, without the depressing shite that goes with being a partner.
And I know we’re not unusual. Many of you are in this situation. The partnership model is unravelling with breathtaking speed. It’s finished. I’m finished. Genuinely.
Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland.