Age discrimination legislation could be blocking partnership opportunities for younger GPs, say lawyers.
Recent changes to the Employment (Equality) Age Regulations 2006 means partners cannot be made to retire at 65, unlike practice employees.
This means that young GPs cannot assume partnership opportunities will arise regularly, says Jean Sapeta, a partner at Hempsons solicitors.
The regulations could exacerbate the lack of partnerships available for the rising number of salaried GPs in the UK, as partners retire later.
For salaried GPs to remain at a practice, there needs to be a sufficient turnover of partners so they have the chance to become a partner, said Ms Sapeta.
Figures from The Information Centre reveal the number of GP partners in England fell from 29,340 in 2005 to 27,342 in 2007.
The number of GP partnerships in England have decreased steadily each year between 1997 and 2007, from 9,102 to 8,261, despite an overall rise in the number of GPs from 30,959 to 36,420.
Dr Alex Smallwood, chairman of the BMA's GP registrars subcommittee, said partnership opportunities were thin on the ground for young GPs.
'Anything that deters people from advertising partnerships should be treated with scepticism,' he said.
But Dr Terry John, chairman of the BMA's GP workforce committee, believes that the current situation in primary care means that many partners approaching retirement age will be happy to retire.
'I don't think people will want to hang on and on like they would have liked to in the past. But we do need to be reminding all practices that if we want the profession to be strong we must enable partnerships to occur,' he said.
'We don't want a pool of disaffected young GPs waiting to be taken in by private companies,' he added.
GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman has also recently encouraged practices to offer more partnership opportunities despite the current financial uncertainty. The GPC is working on a campaign to ensure practices offer more partnership opportunities.
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