Exclusive - Expected retirement 'time bomb' fails to go off

20 per cent of GPs now over 55, as GP investigation reveals huge numbers delaying retirement plans.

Fears of a retirement time bomb have not materialised, a GP survey of PCTs can reveal.

The numbers staying in work mean fears of a GP shortage have proven wide of the mark, but experts warn the situation has created a 'log jam' making it hard for young GPs to find work.

More than one GP in five is now aged over 55, and huge numbers of older GPs are staying in work.

'Not as many GPs are retiring as would have been forecast 10 years ago,' said a Worcestershire PCT spokesman.

'Using PMS, the new GMS contract and the flexible career scheme, several GPs have returned to their practices after retirement, working part-time.'

Nottingham GP and course organiser Dr Prit Chahal said: 'There was considerable speculation that there might be a shortfall in GPs a few years ago. I suspect that much of the alarm was speculative.'

Older GPs have increased sharply as a proportion of the workforce in every age group over 50 in the past 10 years.

Official data show there are now 19 per cent more GPs than in 1997 but among the 50-54s, there are 30 per cent more. There are 62 per cent more 55-59s and 53 per cent more 60-64s.

The number of GPs working in their late 60s has gone up by 78 per cent; and GPs over 70 years old by 523 per cent.

GP's survey showed older GPs are continuing to work in urban and rural areas. The Isle of Wight has 54 GPs over 50, a three-fold increase compared with 10 years ago; Tameside and Glossop has seen a similar rise, from 21 to 57 GPs in this group.

Older GPs are taking jobs with a smaller administrative burden than a partnership. On the Isle of Wight, 14 of the 54 GPs over 50 are non-principals and 13 of Wolverhampton City's 70 older GPs are locums.

This is having an impact on trainees entering the workforce. Barking and Dagenham PCT said: 'The PCT has not seen the number of practice vacancies that may have been expected. We are encouraging existing practices to recruit additional partners or salaried GPs.'

prisca.middlemiss@haymarket.com

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