Ageing medical workforce - a growing trend

Author: Jo Carlowe

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The NHS workforce is ageing, and employers must do more to support older doctors according to a new report by the British Medical Association (BMA).


The make-up of the UK population is changing and 18% of people are now aged 65 or over. This demographic is reflected in the NHS where, around 50% of the workforce is aged 45 or more. With such a large proportion of staff being older, a significant portion of the workforce is now considering retirement and many staff want to leave often well before they are 65. 


A new report* published by the BMA highlights some of the key issues presented by an ageing workforce, these include:

  • Older doctors act as role models, supervisors, trainers, appraisers and mentors – the NHS risks losing this valuable human asset if doctors choose to retire early
  • Early retirement in the medical workforce leads to a sudden loss of experience and expertise from an already understaffed workforce and it cannot be quickly or easily replaced;
  • Understanding the reasons why doctors are retiring early is important so that the NHS can work out what will motivate them to stay and how they can be supported; 
  • Older patients say they place high value in being treated by a clinician of a similar age to themselves; something which can strengthen the doctor patient relationship. 

Commenting on the findings of the report, Dr David Wrigley, BMA deputy chair of council said: “In today’s NHS, some 47% of staff are now aged 45 or over, while six out of 10 consultants and specialty and associate speciality doctors are over the age of 45 and almost one in two GPs are over the age of 45. The medical workforce is ageing, and many experienced older doctors are finding that working in today’s NHS is too taxing on their work-life balance, health and wellbeing, particularly as they age, causing some to seek early retirement.”


He added: “The NHS needs to understand why doctors retire and what will motivate them to stay working. Our report highlights the support required for those doctors who wish to work past retirement age including allowing flexible working arrangements, having time to practise the most enjoyable aspects of medicine and support with workload to prevent burnout. Older doctors can contribute their skills in other ways and the NHS must recognise and support this while the government must review pensions arrangements for both working doctors, and for doctors in retirement so that they are not disadvantaged financially by deciding to return to the workplace.  


“Employers must do all they can to make it easier for older doctors to work in the NHS, so their skills and experience can be retained and passed on.” 


Responding, Sue Covill, director of development and employment at NHS Employers, told OnMedica: “Many organisations in the NHS are offering flexible ways of working to meet the needs of patients and staff and recognise that many staff highlight the need for predictability in their working pattern.  


“NHS Employers with NHS Improvement are supporting employers to consider what matters to staff and in turn maximising existing provisions within the NHS Pensions Scheme for retire and return and flexible retirement.  


“For employers and their staff reform of the pension taxation system is critical in ensuring the pension scheme encourages colleagues to continue to work for patients rather than creating a disincentive to work longer.”


A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Doctors are the backbone of the NHS, providing excellent, safe care to patients around the clock. We value their contribution immensely and as part of our Long-Term Plan for the NHS, we will publish a Workforce Implementation Plan later this year which will consider how we maximise their skills and ensure we retain the doctors we need for the future."

*Supporting an ageing medical workforce . A report by the BMA, 19 February 20189.


Editorial team, Wilmington Healthcare

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