Half of GPs plan on retiring before they are 60 or when they hit that age, a poll suggests.
A survey of more than 800 GPs for Pulse magazine found around 47% intend to retire at or before 60.
Of these, 11% said they intended to retire aged 50 to 55, with only 14% intending to retire aged 66 or over.
Those responding to the survey gave a number of reasons why they wanted to leave the profession, with the most common being burnout and workload, although issues with pensions were also a significant reason.
Doctors have been in dispute with the Government for several years over tax rules relating to GP pensions.
Most recently, rules around tax-free annual allowance (AA) charges mean doctors are potentially going to be charged on “a benefit they will never actually receive”, according to the British Medical Association (BMA).
Pulse said its survey suggests there is a greater appetite for retiring early than in its previous polls.
Warrington GP partner Dr Martin Whitenburgh, who aims to retire at 50 to 55 years old, told Pulse: “The sooner I leave this mess the better. I don’t recognise the job anymore and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone pursuing a career in general practice.”
A salaried GP, who wished to remain anonymous, told Pulse they also aim to retire between 50 and 55 as they “cannot sustain the workload”.
They added: “Two of my close friends, both excellent GPs, have left the NHS due to the workload and stress. One has gone to Bupa and the other to an insurance provider.
“It’s all about politics, not funding primary care properly – encouraging the public to think private is the way forward.
“Conscientious doctors are leaving because they can’t/won’t do a bad job for the patients but the current system doesn’t allow them to do their jobs properly.
“Ten-minute GP appointments are no longer fit for purpose.”
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The number of highly trained, experienced GPs planning to leave the profession early is concerning but not altogether unsurprising given the intense workload and workforce pressures GPs and our teams are working under on a daily basis.
“Good work is ongoing to encourage junior doctors to choose general practice, and these efforts have been successful.
“But if more GPs are leaving the profession than entering it, we are fighting a losing battle.
“We need to see just as much effort going into making general practice an attractive and sustainable career for existing GPs, so they can continue delivering frontline patient care in the NHS and mentoring the next generation of family doctors.
“The Government has promised 6,000 more GPs by 2024 but are not on track to deliver this, but they cannot give up on it.”
BMA GP committee workforce policy lead Dr Samira Anane said: “BMA analysis has shown that we now have the equivalent of 1,622 fewer fully qualified full-time GPs than we did in 2015, despite the average number of patients each GP is responsible for having increased by around 300 – or 16% – since then.
“On top of unprecedented workload leading to burnout, complex and punitive pension taxation rules that can leave senior doctors facing eye-watering and unexpected charges if they stay in work longer mean family doctors are not only exhausted and disenchanted, but also absurdly financially punished for continuing to look after their patients.
“As a result, they are reluctantly voting with their feet by reducing hours or deciding to retire early, and the impact on patients cannot be underestimated.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are grateful to GPs for their hard work and we are supporting and growing the workforce – including by investing at least £1.5 billion to deliver an extra 50 million GP appointments a year by 2024.
“There were over 1,400 more doctors working in general practice in March 2022 compared to the same time in 2019 and a record-breaking number started training as GPs last year.”
It comes as a study from Imperial College London found a 41% drop in the contacts children and young people had with GPs during the first Covid lockdown from March to June 2020, compared with previous years.
There was an 88% drop in face-to-face consultations but more than a two-fold increase in phone and video contacts for those aged up to 24.
The study was published in the British Journal of General Practice.