The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (“the College”) has reacted to the publication of a major new report into the retirement intentions of senior hospital doctors in Scotland. The study was conducted by the University of Dundee on behalf of NHS Scotland employers, BMA Scotland and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland. It is based on survey results from around 1700 senior hospital doctors in Scotland.

The report found that almost half of doctors 50 years old or over intend to retire before normal pension age. Furthermore, only 22% of all the doctors sampled did not intend to transition into retirement by scaling down work commitments. Key factors driving the desire for earlier retirement include pension issues, burnout and work-related stress.

Commenting Professor Andrew Elder, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said:

This important new study is welcome and in many ways reflects the findings, in relation to retirement intentions, of recent annual physicians’ censuses conducted by the three Royal Colleges of Physicians.

Our College has argued consistently that the Scottish Government must, as a policy priority, significantly increase efforts to retain physicians working in our NHS – in addition to recruiting additional new doctors and boosting medical school places- and this report is yet more evidence of how important and urgent this is and will be going forward. Comprehensive workforce planning that prioritises staff retention at all levels is absolutely vital.

All age groups within the medical workforce are important – doctors over fifty years of age have much experience and technical, clinical, teaching and leadership skills that should not be lost prematurely. Their morale impacts on those under this age – as such, improving their situation will also support those in more “junior” stages of their careers. 

We would urge the new Cabinet Secretary for Health to consider this report carefully and work with stakeholders, including the Medical Royal Colleges, to address the issues raised within it and introduce new, more flexible working conditions while offering better support for physicians. Failure to improve the retention of senior hospital doctors will have an inevitable impact on patient care and service provision and we must avoid the situation deteriorating.