Hospital Dr News

Early retirement of hospital doctors adds to workforce crisis in England and Wales

Hospital doctors in England and Wales are increasingly choosing to take early retirement.

Figures from the NHS Business Services Authority reveal that the number of hospital doctors claiming their NHS pension on grounds of voluntary early retirement rose from 164 in 2008 to 397 in 2018.

The number retiring on ill health grounds rose from 12 to 79 over the same period.

In 2008, 14% of hospital doctors claiming their NHS pension took voluntary early retirement; in 2018, 27% of doctors did so.

In 2008, 1% retired on grounds of ill health; in 2018, 5% did.

The total number of hospital doctors choosing to take their pension (whether on grounds of age, voluntary early retirement, or ill health) rose by 22% from 1205 in 2008 to 1475 in 2018.

The total number of hospital doctors working in the NHS rose by 21% over the same period.

Dr Rob Harwood, BMA consultants committee chair, commented: “These figures are concerning but certainly not surprising for doctors working in understaffed and under-resourced hospitals across the country. Given the combined pressures of mounting demand, unmanageable workloads and widespread gaps in rotas, it is to be expected that doctors may ultimately choose to leave the profession early.

“What is most worrying, however, is the six-fold rise in those retiring early due to ill-health, clearly illustrating the effect these pressures are having on the physical and mental wellbeing of doctors, with many finding themselves at high risk of stress and burnout.”

In March, NHS Business Services Authority figures showed that GPs were also increasingly choosing to take early retirement.

The number of GPs claiming their NHS pension on grounds of voluntary early retirement increased from 198 in 2007-08 to 721 in 2016-17, and the number retiring on ill health grounds rose from 12 to 63 over the same period.

The number retiring on age grounds fell from 944 in 2007-08 to 380 in 2016-17.

Harwood added: “No patient should be treated by a sick doctor, so ministers and policymakers must improve working conditions across the NHS, properly planning rotas to avoid understaffing and prevent unsafe situations. Transitional arrangements for those approaching retirement should also be made more available, including better opportunities for flexible working and an end to overnight working.

“Occupational health services play a significant role in keeping staff at work and preventing ill-health retirements. Comprehensive occupational health services must be put in place if we are to keep doctors healthy, safe and in the profession for longer.

“These figures are the tip of the iceberg, and without urgent action the NHS will lose even more talented doctors at a time when it can least afford it.”

The NHS Business Services Authority provided the data on hospital doctor retirement to The BMJ in response to a freedom of information request.

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