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Modernising Medical Careers

Volume 457: debated on Wednesday 7 March 2007

Following discussion with the medical Royal Colleges and the British Medical Association, I should like to set out the Department of Health's plan for an immediate review of the first round of the new national recruitment and selection process for doctors in postgraduate training.

As part of the Modernising Medical Careers (MMC) reforms of postgraduate medical training, new specialty training programmes will be introduced in August 2007. To support this, a new national recruitment and selection process was introduced this year, facilitated by the on-line Medical Training Application Service (MTAS). This process sets out national recruitment and selection criteria, documentation and standards—replacing the countless local appointment processes that had previously been in place.

The new arrangements were developed with the help of stakeholders, including the medical Royal Colleges and trainee doctors. We will continue to work with them to ensure that trainee doctors are properly supported and fairly treated, and that the NHS is able to train and recruit the best doctors for the future.

Doctors have been applying for their preferred specialist training programme since 22 January 2007. The first round of interviews began last week. A large number of jobs will not be filled in the first round and we have stressed to those interviewing in round one that they should not appoint unless they are absolutely satisfied with the calibre of candidates.

While the Department believes this will deliver a fair and transparent appointments process, it is clear that there have been a number of problems with MTAS, and that the process as a whole has created a high degree of insecurity amongst applicants and, indeed, more widely in the profession. Although it needs to be recognised that we are only part way through the first stage of a two stage process, the Department accepts that further action is required to establish greater confidence in the system.

The Department proposes, therefore, to initiate immediately an independent review of the first round of the 2007 process to ensure that appropriate lessons are learned and to take remedial action to ensure the second round of the process which begins on 28 April 2007 runs effectively. The terms of reference are to:

understand what has worked and not worked to date;

identify and promote good practice;

recommend action to remedy any weaknesses, taking account of legal and operational constraints;

identify specifically what further action or guidance is required:

immediately (or before completion of round one);

before commencement of round two;

before any subsequent rounds.

develop improved arrangements for the support and care of candidates.

The review will be led by Professor Neil Douglas, vice-president of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. It will take evidence widely, including from the British Medical Association (and the Junior Doctors Committee) and from a sample of junior doctors and consultants engaged in the process.

The review will be completed by the end of March, and the findings published as soon as possible in order for lessons to be learned and changes to be made ahead of the second round.

In the meantime, round one will continue as planned.