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Hundreds of hospital consultants say they’ll leave the NHS well before retirement age, BMA analysis shows

The NHS faces a future without hundreds of senior skilled hospital doctors as they consider leaving the health service years before they would be expected to, according to new BMA analysis.

The results of a survey of hospital consultants, conducted by the BMA and published today1, shows:
Six out of ten consultant doctors are intending to retire from the NHS before or at the age of 60. They say the need for a better work-life balance is the primary driver for leaving the NHS;

  • Concerns around the impact of current pension legislation is the second most important factor influencing consultants’ intended retirement age;
  • Less than 7 per cent say they expect to remain working in the NHS after the age of 65; 
  • Over a third of all respondents expect to reduce the number of days they work in the NHS by up to 50 per cent;
  • Almost 18 per cent are in the process of planning to reduce their working time even further, including a complete withdrawal from service;
  • More than 40 per cent said they are less likely, or have already given up taking part in work initiatives to reduce waiting lists.

The implications of such a significant loss of skilled and specialist clinicians both on the junior staff they teach and the patients they care for is potentially disastrous for the already beleaguered health service.

In the same week that the Government published its Long-Term Plan for the NHS and promised access to personalised care for early stage cancer sufferers, the prevention of up to 150,000 heart attacks, stroke and dementia cases, a 24/7 community-based mental health crisis response for adults and older adults available across England by 2020/21, and specific waiting time targets for emergency mental health services, this survey indicates these promises will come to naught if the specialist staff needed to provide the care have left the NHS.

Dr Rob Harwood, BMA consultants committee chair, said:

“Such a situation is clearly untenable. During a deepening workforce crisis, the NHS needs its most experienced and expert doctors now more than ever. I struggle to understand how the Health Secretary can talk about increasing productivity in hospital care, while allowing the NHS to be a system which perversely encourages its most experienced doctors to do less work and, in some cases, to leave when they do not want to.

“This is happening against the backdrop of the derisory new pay settlement for consultants in England – an average weekly uplift of just £6.10 after tax - at a time when they have lost over 24 per cent of take-home pay in the last decade.”


Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. Further details about the survey are here.
  2. 4,089 hospital consultants responded to the survey which was conducted between November and December 2018.

For further information please contact:

British Medical Association, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JP
Telephone: 020 7383 6448 
Email: [email protected]
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