NEARLY half of all senior hospital doctors in Scotland plan to retire early, according to the most detail investigation to date on the NHS workforce in Scotland.

The report by Dundee University found that almost 48 per cent of hospital consultants over 50 in Scotland intend to step down before their normal pension age, amid warnings that the health service is facing a "massive challenge" to retain medical expertise.

This was particularly pronounced among doctors aged 50 to 54, of whom 63% planned to retire early.

Consultants over 50 make up 42% of the consultant workforce in NHS Scotland.

The pension taxation regime was the main reason given for early retirement or plans to scale down on work commitments.

READ MORE: Pension tax changes hailed as 'potentially transformative' for NHS

The analysis is based on a survey carried out over a three week period in December last year, with feedback received from around 1,700 doctors including 1,045 aged over 50.

This pre-dated the decision by the UK Government, announced in the Spring Budget, to scrap the lifetime allowance on pensions and raise the annual allowance for tax-free contributions from £40,000 to £60,000 in a bid to stem the exodus of senior clinicians from the NHS.

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The move was described in March as "potentially transformative" for the NHS by BMA leaders, with the Dundee academics saying today that their findings provide "solid evidence" for the changes which were controversial because they benefitted the highest earners amid a cost of living crisis. 

The Herald:

The previous rules had been blamed for hampering NHS recovery because doctors who had reached the £1.7 million threshold on their pension pots were being hit by tax bills running into tens of thousands of pounds each year, with many retiring early, cutting their hours, or opting to do shifts in the private sector instead where earnings would not contribute towards their NHS pension.

The Dundee University report notes that the trend for UK doctors to retire before normal pension age is "unusual in some respects" compared to other professions and to medics internationally given that data shows "doctors in some other countries increasing their work commitments and retiring later".

READ MORE: NHS workforce statistics reveal 'worrying' vacancies

It added that there must be something "unique" about the UK which can be "partly explained by the current UK tax regime on pensions and work-related pressures in the NHS" as well as "organisational cultural problems and a lack of career planning for doctors in the later stages of their careers".

The report, by researchers at Dundee's School of Business, was jointly commissioned by NHS employers in Scotland, the BMA (Scotland) Consultants Committee, and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland.

In addition to the pensions situation, doctors who wanted to get out early blamed feelings of disillusionment about the NHS is being run.

Others described a desire for more flexible working, with complaints about workload, staffing shortages and a wish for "honest messaging" as to what could be realistically delivered within current financial constraints.

The Herald: Disillusionment and burnout were also blamed by doctors wanting to leave the NHS earlyDisillusionment and burnout were also blamed by doctors wanting to leave the NHS early (Image: PA)

Graeme Martin, a professor of management at Dundee University and lead author of the report, said: “Our research provides solid evidence for the recent pension taxation changes.

"However, these do not deal with other key grievances, such as a strong sense of disillusionment with their organisational and NHS leaders, declining engagement with work and its sense of moral purpose.

"There is also evidence of burnout among doctors, particularly in some specialties.

“In combination with our earlier research, this work shows the nature and extent of dissatisfaction among doctors over how they are treated in the NHS.

"If anything, the findings are more worrying because they show how organisational disillusionment has resulted in doctors feeling their work lacks the meaning it once held for them.”

READ MORE: Medic blames NHS Highland 'dysfunction' for consultant exodus

Dr Alan Robertson, chair of the BMA's Scottish consultants' committee, said: “This detailed and comprehensive research reveals the scale of the massive challenge we face in Scotland to retain our senior doctors in the NHS.

“We have warned for years that the way doctors are treated towards the end of their careers means many are being so worn down they are simply calling time early.

"This is costing the health service years of possible service from highly skilled professionals who have spent their whole careers gaining hugely valuable experience caring for the people of Scotland.

“This report should put the validity of these warnings and the hugely serious impact they are having beyond doubt.

"For too long, the concerns of senior doctors have either not been listened to or not acted on effectively and we now have a situation where 50% are planning on not working through to their retirement age.

"That’s a damning indictment on how we care for our doctors – and should be a major concern for all those relying on our NHS and its staff."

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