Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

A doctor with his head in his hands.

GPs are more likely than their peers in other specialties to cite workload pressures as the primary motivation behind their decision to retire according to an analysis of survey responses published in BMJ Open today.

1 in 10 UK specialists and GPs is over the age of 60, and stress is driving 80% of senior hospital doctors to consider early retirement. The loss of valuable expertise poses serious challenges for both the medical profession and patients.

The Medical Careers Research Group based at NDPH conducts longitudinal cohort studies of the careers of all doctors who graduated in particular years from UK medical schools. Their latest findings come from analysis of the responses to a survey sent in 2014 to 4,369 doctors who had graduated between 1974 and 1977. Of the 3695 (85%) who responded, 55% were still working in medicine.

Among the 1542 respondents who had retired, 67% said they had retired when they originally planned to do so, while 28% had changed their plans. Half said they wanted more leisure time or to pursue other interests. But nearly as many (43%) said that work pressures had prompted their decision to stop working.

GPs were much more likely to cite workload pressures as a reason for retirement than hospital specialists (51.6% vs 32.5%).

20% of GPs and just over 31% of anaesthetists cited deteriorating skills/competence as a reason for retiring. This was a factor for only 16% of surgeons.

A desire not to work out of hours was an important consideration for surgeons, anaesthetists, radiologists and obstetricians and gynaecologists.

Women were twice as likely as men (21% vs 11%) to retire for family reasons, and three times as likely to do so because their spouse had retired (27% vs 9%). The higher proportion of women retirees pre-dates the substantial increase in female medical students and the researchers warn that “If the male-female differences in the likelihood of early retirement become evident in younger generations of doctors, these may become an important source of future attrition from the medical workforce, overall.”

Doctors still in work were asked what would persuade them to stay on for longer: less work-related red tape came top of the list, cited by 45%, closely followed by shorter hours/lighter workload, cited by 42% of respondents.