Concerns about the white paper and taking on commissioning will not result in a “mass exodus” of GPs into retirement, according to the leader of the British Medical Association’s GP committee.

General practice was made a medical speciality in its own right in the 1980s resulting in a surge in its popularity, which means there is now a “retirement bulge” in the system, with a large number of GPs in their mid to late 50s.

However, asked by HSJ if the challenge of implementing the white paper reforms combined with proposed changes to the NHS pension scheme might persuade many of these GPs to seek early retirement, GP committee chair Laurence Buckman said: “I don’t think that will produce a massive exodus.

“By and large, doctors want to go to work and heal the sick. I know it may sound a bit pompous but that’s what they like doing. It will take a lot to persuade them to jack it in for some transient change,” he said.

“Most of the time GPs are going to be going to their surgeries seeing numbers of patients who are not well. That is not going to change. One’s day to day surgery activity is not going to alter because of the white paper.  One’s referral patterns and various other things may change.”

Dr Buckman’s comments are in contrast to those made by the BMA in 2001 when negotiating the terms of the new general medical services contract.

A National Audit Office on the impact of the revised contract, published in February 2008, noted that one of the major levers used by the BMA in negotiating was the belief that general practice was in crisis, with a quarter of GPs considering leaving the profession.

Another major revision to GP contracts is expected following the white paper’s proposal to move to a “single national contract and funding model” to replace the three currently available. However, it has been mooted by the National Association of Primary Care that in the short term the existing contracts may need to be renegotiated to incorporate commissioning duties.