CREDIT: This story was first seen in The Telegraph
The number of GPs taking early retirement has risen sharply following a clampdown on multi-million pound pension pots, new figures show.
The Telegraph reports that an investigation shows 62% of GPs who retired in 2016/17 did so before the age of 60 – having made up just 33% of cases in 2011/12.
The trend follows changes in pension rules, which mean the cap on how much savers can amass without being taxed has fallen from £1.8m in 2012 to £1m.
It comes amid record closures of GP practices, with senior doctors warning that the profession was being left ‘on its knees’.
The analysis by Pulse magazine shows almost 3,500 GPs have taken early retirement since the clampdown, which reduces the financial gain from staying in work to reach the maximum pension.
The figures show that in 2016/17, 721 GPs began claiming their pension before the age of 60, compared with a figure of 513 in 2011/12, just before the changes came in.
Over that period, the average age of retirement has fallen by two years, to 58.5 years old, the figures from the NHS Business Services Authority show.
In total, 62% of all GPs claiming their pension last year were below the age of 60, compared with 33% in 2011/12.
GPs said they were opting to leave early, because they had reached the maximum pension contribution before tax and were fed up with the daily stress of working in general practice.
But critics said taxpayers were losing out because they were suffering shortages of doctors, while funding ‘gold-plated pensions’.
Dr Anu Rao, a GP in Leicestershire and Rutland said the increasing number of GPs ‘fortunate enough’ to draw their pension early had left ‘a struggling GP workforce on its knees’.
In the Yorkshire town of Bridlington, all six practices have closed their lists to new patients, amid shortages of medics, with doctors warning that ‘a town without GPs is a very real possibility’.
Dr Michael Crow, a GP in Surrey, who retired at 55, said he had chosen to retire after reaching the maximum pension lifetime allowance, meaning further contributions would be taxed.
“I’d reached the lifetime allowance. I had high blood pressure, which was almost certainly caused by the stress…added to the fact that I didn’t think that we were able to provide a safe service to our patients.” he said.
Others said they had “run out of steam” to cope with increasing pressures, amid rising numbers of patients and longer waiting lists, with some saying they did not want to be “the last man standing” in a GP practice where everyone else had left.
NHS figures show the GP workforce has fallen by more than 1,000 between September 2016 and September 2017, despite pledges to increase numbers by 5,000.
Alex Wild, Research Director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “Public sector pensions in their current form are unaffordable and unsustainable. Let’s not forget that it’s taxpayers who have funded training for many of these doctors, and have kept them in paid employment for decades. Taxpayers are not only footing the bill for these gold-plated pensions, but are also losing out as more doctors are opting to retire early on the public purse.”
Professor Kamila Hawthorne, vice chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “If more GPs are leaving the profession, for whatever reason, than entering it then the service we deliver to more than a million patients a day is in jeopardy.
“We need to see the substantial efforts being made to recruit more GPs matched with initiatives to retain existing GPs in our workforce.
“GPs and our teams are working incredibly hard to deliver the best care they can for patients, but for many the combination of chronic underfunding, severe staff shortages, and escalating workload has become too much.
“Over the last seven years, GP workload has increased by at least 16 per cent, but the share of the overall NHS budget general practice receives is less than it was a decade ago, and our workforce has not risen at pace with demand.”