Survey of GPs’ retirement plans is not reliable

9 June 2022
What was claimed

Half of GPs plan to retire by 60.

Our verdict

This comes from an unweighted survey of GPs who chose to answer questions from Pulse magazine. As a result, it is not a reliable guide to the plans of GPs as a whole.

Half of existing GP workforce intends to retire at or before 60

Almost half of family doctors plan to retire by 60, poll shows

The GP magazine Pulse, claims that about half of the GP workforce intends to retire by the age of 60, according to a survey it conducted. This was subsequently reported by the Times, the Independent, and MailOnline.

However, the Pulse survey did not use a representative sample of GPs, nor did Pulse adjust the results to make them more representative, so its findings are not a reliable guide to GPs as a whole.

This wasn’t explained in any of the media coverage.

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How was the survey run?

Full Fact asked Pulse how the survey was conducted. A spokesperson confirmed that several questions on a variety of subjects were available to be answered online between 25 February and 3 March this year. Pulse advertised the survey to readers on its website and in its email newsletter, offering entry to a £100 voucher prize draw as an incentive to take part.

In total, 823 GPs answered the question about their planned age of retirement. Of these, 390, or about 47%, said that they intended to retire at 60 or younger.

Since we made contact, Pulse has edited the note on the bottom of the article to clarify these details. It has also told us that the survey responses were not weighted, for instance by adjusting the number of responses from people of different ages or genders, to make the total more representative of the GP workforce in general.

Taking all this together, it means that the results of the survey may be affected by self-selection bias, when the people who choose to answer a survey are not a typical selection of that group of people more widely, and thus might express different opinions from the group as a whole. Self-selecting surveys are not a reliable measure of public opinion.

We’ve often written about self-selection bias, including in a recent survey of teachers. We’ve also written about this issue in a survey from Pulse before.

What does it mean about GPs?

While it is certainly possible that at least 47% of GPs intend to retire at 60 or younger—perhaps because of the work pressures or pension incentives mentioned in the article—this survey doesn’t provide good evidence for that.

This is because Pulse readers may not be typical of all GPs, and Pulse readers who took part in the survey and chose to answer this question may be even less typical.

The article cited other evidence, showing a large number of NHS staff took early retirement in April 2022. However, this doesn’t tell us about GPs specifically, nor about the future plans of the whole workforce.

Data obtained by an FOI request from the British Medical Journal found that the average age of retirement for doctors in general was 59 in 2020/21, although some of these may have been so-called “24-hour retirements”, when doctors technically retire to claim their pensions then return to work soon afterwards.

The editor of Pulse, Jaimie Kaffash, told Full Fact: “Our surveys are snapshots and aren’t intended to be scientific, more often designed to gauge the mood of the profession and compare with our previous survey results.”

Image courtesy of National Cancer Institute on Unsplash 

Update 16 June 2022

More detail was added about the BMJ research.

We took a stand for good information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted Pulse, The Times, the Independent and MailOnline to request corrections regarding this claim.

Pulse amended its article and added a line to the disclaimer note.

The Times, the Independent and MailOnline amended their articles.

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