Our weekly blogger Jonty Pearce contemplates early retirement in a bid to enjoy his boat more
As the nights draw in on the end of the 2015 sailing season I am starting to ponder the twilight of my own working life. I have been a GP in a small practice on the west side of the Malvern Hills for nearly 28 years and admit to being punch-drunk with change fatigue.
Many people ask if it has been boring working in the same place for all those years without ‘promotion’. On the contrary, it has been a pleasure and a privilege – the best bit about it has been the patients (albeit with the inevitable few exceptions). The practice is not quite a two doctor practice – more like a one and a half one – and I have been the lead GP for all my time there. As a result the village and I have enjoyed true country practice medicine in the old fashioned sense – a personal service. It is an honour to look after the babies of mums who I looked after before they were born – my only sadness is that I will be retired by the time the 3rd generation comes along.
And there is the point – thoughts of retirement. I am knocking on the door of being 58 and already many of my peers of the same age have hung up their stethoscopes. I can’t blame them – studies have shown that the retirement survival of doctors who draw their pension at 65 is only a few years, while those who finish at 60 can expect to enjoy at least 15 years of life after work. The Indoor Dragon, whose flames were temporarily damped down three years ago by breast cancer treatment, is now back on full heat and pushing for me to leave in 18 months at the still young age of 59. After her health scare, she sensibly wants us to set off sailing into our retirement while we are both fit and active enough to enjoy it. It is not often that I bless the NHS, but when it comes to the pension benefits accrued over my career I am fortunate to be able to afford to retire a year early.
GP manpower figures do not make good reading. A ‘bulge’ of 40% of GP’s intend to retire within five years. To maintain numbers 50% of medical school output needs to choose General Practice. In fact, a mere 20% are entering GP training, and this year the GP Training Schemes that feed manpower into my profession are only half subscribed. We are up the proverbial smelly creek without a paddle. And now the last straw is talk of 7 Day Working and an improbable 7,000 new GP’s. Where from? And the number needed for 7 Day Working is more like 40,000. Nobody is going into General Practice – a decade of pay cuts, increasing workload, and lack of secure structure for the future is not impressing the next medical generation. I am happy to work for a well organised administration, but with the existing fantasist planning the good ship NHS is heading for the rocks and those who can are abandoning ship. This whole employment crisis has been predicted for years, but the current Captain Bligh management style has preferred to keep passing the buck and pretend it is invisible, while simultaneously GP bashing and inciting the press against the medical profession.
I have just returned from a refresher course where the level of morale horrified me. Instead of discussing new treatments and patient successes over coffee, the sole topics of conversation were how to survive and when retirement was on the cards. If General Practice was a sailing boat, it is evident that the skipper’s preference is to ignore the fact that the last of his crew has just climbed back onto the pontoon instead of slipping the lines on the most ambitious cruise yet.
I had not intended this blog to be a rant, but do feel much better now, thank you. The 18 months before I sail off into the sunset will flash past, and, once prepared, Aurial will take us on a circumnavigation of Britain in celebration of retirement. But as the Indoor Dragon and I age, we know that we, too, will need maintenance – but will there still be a boatyard when we need our own refit?