Background: Medical workforce planning needs to be informed by knowledge about doctors' retirement intentions. Systematic information about retirement intentions, and factors that influence them, is sparse.
Methods: Postal questionnaires were sent to members of a cohort of medical qualifiers surveyed regularly since they qualified in 1974, with quantitative analysis of intentions about early retirement and qualitative analysis of reasons for wanting early retirement.
Results: A total of 1717 replies were received from 2217 traceable doctors (77.4 per cent). Of these, 1427 doctors worked in the NHS and answered the question about retirement: 14.8 per cent (211) said that they would definitely continue to normal retirement age and 20.1 per cent (287) probably would. Of those not definitely continuing to normal retirement age, 45.1 per cent had made financial provision to support early retirement, Seventy per cent cited reasons for considering early retirement: the main reasons were to reduce work-related pressure, increase leisure time, job dissatisfaction, disillusionment with the NHS, and wanting a healthy retirement. Doctors might be encouraged to stay by more flexible working patterns, a reduction in workload with increasing age, improved staffing levels, preservation of pension rights for part-time working, fewer NHS administrative changes, and greater professional freedom.
Conclusion: The impact of early retirement on medical workforce supply may be considerable. Approaches to retirement policy need to shift away from the extremes of either full-time employment or total retirement.