Sustained pressures will continue to take a toll on staffing levels
New official figures show that the number of doctors taking early retirement from the NHS has more than tripled over the past 13 years.
The figures provided to the BMJ by the NHS Business Services Authority show that the number of doctors in England and Wales who took voluntary early retirement or retired because of ill health rose from 401 in 2007-08 to 1,358 in 2020-21. Overall, the total number of doctors retiring rose by 21% over this period, from 2,431 in 2007-08 to 2,952 in 2020-21.
Responding to the BMJ investigation on the early retirement of doctors, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery said: "These findings tally with concerns we are hearing from trusts about workforce levels. We have just published a survey in which 48% of trust leaders said they have seen evidence of staff leaving their organisation due to early retirement, COVID-19 burnout, or other effects from working in the pandemic.
"While trusts are prioritising the mental and physical health of their colleagues through various initiatives like wellbeing hubs, there is serious concern that sustained pressures will continue to take a toll on staffing levels. Tackling winter pressures, flu, a spike in COVID-19 hospitalisations and addressing backlogs of care are just some of the challenges facing staff now and in the coming months.
"What's urgently needed is enough staff to be recruited and retained within the NHS to not only address existing shortages, but to build flexibility into the system. Staff need realistic workloads, more regular and reliable breaks and a better work life balance. This will also result in better care for patients. The Government must commit to this through a long-term, fully costed and funded workforce plan."