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Medical Training Application Service

Volume 459: debated on Tuesday 1 May 2007

With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will bring the House up to date on the two security breaches of the medical training application service, MTAS, that arose last week.

As I explained in a written statement to the House last Friday, on Wednesday 25 April, a serious breach of security protection occurred on the MTAS website. To enable the necessary pre-employment checks to be carried out, personal details of medical graduate applicants for foundation programme posts were made available to the postgraduate deaneries on dedicated web pages. The information was loaded on to the site at about 8.30 am and the deaneries were notified of the relevant web page address for their area at 9.30 am. In making the information available to the deaneries, the MTAS contractor, Methods Consulting, failed to provide the usual and essential password security protection.

At about 2 pm, “Channel 4 News” became aware of the situation. At 4.35 pm “Channel 4 News” telephoned the Department of Health press office to inform it of the security breach. The Department checked the position and informed the contractor, who immediately arranged for all the personal details to be removed from the site. That was completed by 5.15 pm. The Department’s security team undertook an immediate initial investigation, which has established that information on foundation programme applicants was accessed from just 21 different internet addresses, mostly belonging to postgraduate deaneries.

The overwhelming majority of individual accesses before the security breach was closed came from an internet address belonging to ITN, the providers of “Channel 4 News”. The access by ITN began at about 2 pm and ceased at about 5 pm. More than two hours elapsed between ITN and “Channel 4 News” starting to access personal information and “Channel 4 News” actually notifying the Department of the security breach. [Interruption.] There is no evidence that members of the public or other commercial interests, apart from staff at ITN and “Channel 4 News”, accessed the site. None the less, it was an extremely serious breach of security, as well as a breach of contract between the IT provider and the Department of Health. The company concerned has taken appropriate action in relation to its staff, and it fully co-operated with our security investigations. We have already reported the situation to the Information Commissioner. I will also report it to Ofcom and draw it to the attention of the chairman of Channel 4 and ITN.

The following day, Thursday 26 April, it became apparent that junior doctor applicants, who have secure access to MTAS, could randomly access another candidate’s messages on the messaging facility—used, for instance, to inform candidates about interview appointments—by varying the digits of their own message reference. It appears that, although the content of the message could be accessed, details of the sender and recipient could not be accessed. The Department of Health was advised of this second problem at 3.45 pm on Thursday and informed the contractor, which closed the messaging facility. The whole site was then suspended just after 5 pm and remains suspended.

In view of the two lapses, the IT contractor, Methods, immediately appointed an approved security company, MWR InfoSecurity, to carry out a full security review and penetration testing. Some weaknesses were identified and MWR InfoSecurity has been working with the contractor to rectify them. However, to provide further reassurance, the national technical authority for information assurance, Communications Electronic Security Group, is also advising the Department, and the MTAS site will be re-opened as soon as we have the necessary security assurances.

Those two security breaches were utterly deplorable. They should not have happened and appropriate steps are now being taken. However, there is no evidence that members of the public or other unauthorised people, apart from ITN and “Channel 4 News”—[Laughter.] I am very sorry that the Opposition regard this as a matter of such enormous levity. There is—[Interruption]

Order. The Secretary of State must be allowed to proceed with her statement so that all Members of the House can hear what she is saying.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is no evidence that members of the public or other unauthorised people have in fact accessed personal information on MTAS. Furthermore, no applicant for the foundation programme or specialist training will be disadvantaged because of the two security breaches.

Already, following the recommendations of the review group chaired by Professor Neil Douglas, junior doctors have been offered the opportunity to change their training preferences. Following successful testing by junior doctors from the British Medical Association and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, nearly 26,000 specialist training applicants have reviewed their initial preferences and either revised or confirmed them. That process took place between 20 and 23 April, using MTAS, without security or technical problems. Where issues arose about a candidate’s ineligibility, they will be resolved by the relevant deanery, which determines eligibility.

As a result of the changes made to application preferences by junior doctors, around 15,500 additional interviews will be offered in England during the extended round 1. Although some interviews will be delayed because of the security problems, we still expect them to be completed by early June.

There is no doubt that confidence in the applications system, MTAS, has been further damaged by these deplorable security breaches. That is why the Department and I are taking them extremely seriously and taking appropriate action. I apologise again to junior doctors or foundation programme applicants who have been caused anxiety or, in some cases, inconvenience as a result. I will, of course, continue to keep the House informed of further developments.

Once again, the Secretary of State has had to make a statement to the House about the appalling shambles that has become the Government’s system of selecting training for junior doctors. I am sorry that the Secretary of State could not bring herself to say sorry. [Interruption.] It is interesting that in the copy of the statement that she sent to me beforehand, the word “sorry” does not appear at all.

The right hon. Lady must understand that the most outrageous security breach has occurred. It is astonishing that in her statement she did not tell the House what kind of data we are talking about—not only the application, but personal details, address details, references, the religious denomination of the applicants, their sexual orientation and full details of their criminal records check, including previous police records. It is astonishing that such an outrageous security breach could have happened.

The Secretary of State has not yet told us on what basis the breach occurred and what the consequences are. She said in her statement that the information was accessed from 21 internet addresses, mostly belonging to postgraduate deaneries—mostly. We do not know precisely who they were. Does she know who all those 21 internet addresses belong to?

The Secretary of State has said that there is no evidence that members of the public or commercial interests accessed the site. She may not have the evidence, but can she say that it is her certain knowledge that members of the public or commercial interests did not access the site? As it turned out, there was not only one, but two security breaches.

The Secretary of State must have known about the problems, because of, for example, the following letter to her from the British Orthopaedic Trainees Association on 5 March:

“We have also had concerns about the security of the site, with shortlisters reporting they could access deanery data and applications they had nothing to do with.”

She knew that there were problems with security on the site, and her Department did not take the necessary action to prevent that gross security breach.

Will the Secretary of State explain why on the morning after the breach her Minister, Lord Hunt, went on to the “Today” programme, where, having being asked by Jim Naughtie why it had happened, he said:

“Someone has apparently deliberately leaked that information”?

Jim Naughtie asked:

“You think it was deliberate rather than a mistake?”

Lord Hunt replied:

“It’s quite clear it was leaked.”

What was the justification for the Department putting out that information to the public and junior doctors on the day after the breach occurred? If the Secretary of State cannot guarantee security—she has failed lamentably in this case—what possible guarantee can there be for the patient record data, which will be loaded on to the electronic patient record? We need much greater assurance.

The Secretary of State went on to discuss what is happening now to junior doctors. She said that they are continuing to go through the process without further security or technical problems. I have received 14 examples of occasions when junior doctors have gone on to the site to try to book interviews. They have seen their preferences change; they have seen interviews being booked for two weeks prior to their application; they have seen double interviews; they have seen their eligibility disappear; and they have been told that there are no vacancies, but when they have telephoned, they have been told that there are choices. The system is not working. It is probably just as well that it has been suspended, because it needs to be suspended until we are satisfied about both security and the technical problems.

How can the Secretary of State simply assume that the timetable will be met? According to the review group’s plan, junior doctors should have started booking their interviews on Saturday and completed the process by this Thursday. We are four days into the process, and the site is still suspended. In theory, junior doctors have only 48 hours in which to book their interviews in order to maintain the timetable.

We had a debate last week, from which there are still outstanding questions that the Secretary of State must answer. Her Department asked trusts across the country through strategic health authorities to provide applications for additional training posts, and the trusts were asked to send in those applications by 27 April, which was last Friday. How many applications has she received? What opportunity is there now for additional training posts to provide the flexibility for junior doctors to have greater confidence? Will she assure the House that flexibility will be given to Professor Sir John Tooke’s group for next year by adding training posts this year and next year and by ensuring that wherever possible temporary, one-year training posts are appointed this year, rather than all the posts going on run-through training posts?

Does the Secretary of State not understand that the lamentable shambles that has brought her to this House on, I think, four occasions—we have brought her here twice—has done untold damage to the confidence of the medical profession in the way in which its education and training is being managed. It is down to the profession to restore confidence, and I hope that Sir John Tooke and his colleagues will be able to do so.

Frankly, the medical profession has lost confidence in the Secretary of State. Last Saturday, the British Medical Association junior doctors committee unanimously called on her to resign. I know that she will not walk, but the next Prime Minister ought to move her, and I hope that he does so. Does she not understand that there are two words that junior doctors across this country want to hear her say when she gets up and that those two words are, “I resign”?

The hon. Gentleman asked a series of questions; let me deal with them in turn. He asked about who exactly accessed the site after the first breach. As I indicated, our security investigators have established that access was made from 21 different addresses, the great majority of which belonged to postgraduate deaneries. I am confident, from that investigation, that no members of the public or other commercial organisations accessed the site. Those investigations are continuing, and as more information is established appropriate action will be taken.

The hon. Gentleman referred to shortlisters having access to applications. It was part of the system designed at the request of the postgraduate deaneries that those assessing applications should be able to access the full range of applications because in some cases multiple assessments were being made.

On the leak, we have still not been able to establish how “Channel 4 News” came to be told of the existence of these unprotected website pages. However, since the address of the website page for each of the postgraduate deans included a randomly allocated number, it seems highly unlikely that it was by accident. That is why my noble Friend Lord Hunt made the statement that he did on the morning following this outrageous security leak.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the electronic patient record system. That is a completely separate system established under completely different security and governance arrangements and with a very well developed security compact with patients and the public. It is currently being trialled in various parts of the country, and so far patient response has been extremely good.

The hon. Gentleman referred to junior doctor candidates changing their preference for applications. It is perfectly true that in a relatively small number of cases people were told inaccurately, or rather were told that there were no vacancies or that there were question marks about their eligibility. That did not come from the MTAS site but was a matter for the deaneries. It was not a fault in the MTAS site, nor did it have anything to do with security breaches; it was a matter for the deaneries, and it is being sorted out where necessary between the individual postgraduate deaneries and individual applicants.

More than 40,000 interviews were arranged initially as part of round 1, and that part—now round 1A—has been completed. As I said, more than 15,000 new interviews are being made available in round 1B. Some of those appointments were sent to junior doctor applicants before the security breach and therefore the suspension of the site; others, of course, have not been confirmed because of the site’s suspension. However, if the hon. Gentleman looks, for instance, at the London deaneries website, he will see that applicants have been informed through that site that interviews are planned to start on 8 May and that candidates will be contacted either through MTAS, when that is restored, or through other administrative arrangements if necessary.

I can confirm to the House that, as I said last week, we are working with postgraduate deaneries and with the service to create new training posts that will help to meet the aspirations of junior doctors but will also meet the needs of the service. We will confirm the number and the specific specialties, where they will be available, as quickly as we can.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the leaks that took place on the site last week are nothing at all to do with the electronic patient records that run inside the national health service, and that the words of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman are nothing more than irresponsible scaremongering from backwoodsmen?

This is the fourth occasion on which we have debated this scandalous sequence of events.

The Secretary of State sought to reassure us that the only web addresses that accessed information were at one of the country’s main news organisations, which is not particularly reassuring. Even so, does she accept that the situation could have been far worse and that far more accesses could have been made in other circumstances? Will the right hon. Lady also concede that the information could have been passed on by those who accessed the site?

The Secretary of State said that the overwhelming majority of internet addresses were at ITN, but that suggests that not all of them were there. Where were the others? Are they being investigated? What has been discovered so far?

Will the right hon. Lady concede that the real outrage is that the matter could and should have been avoided through adequate piloting to identify exactly that sort of risk and if the Government had listened to all the warnings that were being given? Does she accept that she knew about IT glitches? The letter from the British Orthopaedic Trainees Association has already been mentioned. What action did she take when she received it to investigate the concerns?

The website states:

“Normal service—

whatever that means—

“will resume as soon as possible.”

When is it expected to resume? Methods Consulting runs MTAS. The Secretary of State referred to a breach of contract. What action is being considered about that? Could the actions—or inaction—of Methods Consulting or others amount to a criminal offence under data protection legislation? Will that be investigated? Will a thorough, independent investigation—not by a company that Methods Consulting brings in—take place into the causes of the security lapses and to ascertain whether other breaches, about which we do not know, occurred?

How many individual medical graduates’ confidential information was accessible? We know that only a few people accessed it, but how many people’s confidential information was accessible to anyone who sought to find it? As we have heard, Remedy UK has received numerous details from junior doctors of strange glitches, such as preferences being changed without their knowledge.

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) gave other examples, but an especially serious example was that of Dr. Hua Luk, a Surrey-born doctor and a British citizen who was told that his application had been rejected because he did not have the correct immigration status. That is a scandal. Does not that evidence show that the system is discredited?

I have repeatedly questioned the Secretary of State about whether it is logistically possible to conduct all the extra interviews in the time scale provided. With the website down, what guidance is being given to applicants about arranging interviews? What faith should we have in NHS IT and the Government’s plans for a national spine of patient data when such a debacle occurs?

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb): it was a serious, deplorable breach of security, as I have already said. It could have had far more serious consequences.

The hon. Gentleman referred to those—one or more individuals—whom we know accessed personal information without authority. It is a matter for their employers—and possibly others—to establish whether the personal information that they accessed was made available to other people.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the 21 addresses and establishing precisely who accessed information from each address. As I said, those investigations are continuing. He referred to piloting. I have no doubt that it is useful—indeed, we piloted the system for the re-preferencing exercise with the help of the BMA and academy junior doctors and it worked well. However, the security breach that occurred last Wednesday was simply due to a decision by an individual at the IT contractor. It was a case of human error, which I am afraid that piloting could not have predicted or prevented.

The hon. Gentleman asked when the website would be restored. As I said in my statement, that will happen as soon as we are satisfied about security. He asked whether investigations are continuing, who by and whether criminal offences might have been committed. It is possible that criminal offences have been committed but we will not know that until the investigations have proceeded further.

Perhaps I could stress to the hon. Gentleman that, as I said in my statement, in order to establish the enhanced level of security that I believe is now necessary—given the publicity that the site has attracted and the danger of further or additional attempts to hack into it—we have brought in the country’s leading experts on the subject: the Communications Electronics Security Group in Cheltenham, which is part of the National Technical Authority for Information Assurance, will be quality assuring the security arrangements.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the number of applicants for foundation programme posts whose personal details had been made available in this wholly improper manner to the postgraduate deaneries. The number of medical graduate applicants involved is just over 6,000. He referred specifically to the case of the Surrey-born doctor who was told that he was ineligible. It is not, however, the MTAS system that makes decisions about eligibility; it is the individual deaneries. I understand that that case was raised with the help desk—some others certainly were—during the re-preferencing exercise, and such cases were quite properly referred to the individual deaneries to sort out. If the hon. Gentleman gives me further details of that case, however, I will ensure that the deanery concerned sorts it out.

We are keeping in close touch with the postgraduate deaneries on this issue, and at this stage we expect the additional 15,500 or so round 1 interviews to be completed by early June. As I have already said, information on the dates for those interviews is already being made available by the individual deans. Appointments will then be confirmed—or, where necessary, changed—either directly through MTAS, when it is restored, or through the deaneries’ making other arrangements to contact the applicants concerned.

I think that those on both sides of the House agree that this was an outrageous security breach. Given that we all rely on IT, and on having access to such websites, is it not incumbent on all agencies, when they come across such security breaches, to alert the authorities rather than to exploit the situation? Am I right in understanding that ITN and ““Channel 4 News”” knew about the breach for more than two hours? If so, was it not extraordinarily irresponsible of those broadcasters to exploit that situation rather than notifying the Department of Health so that it could deal with it?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course, “Channel 4 News”, having been informed of the breach, was entitled to report it. It was a serious security breach, and the programme was entitled to report it; indeed, it might well claim that it had a public responsibility to do so. I agree with my hon. Friend, however, that it also had a responsibility to notify us of that breach urgently—indeed, immediately—so that the proper action could be taken to ensure that people’s personal confidential details were not accessed by others who had no right to access them.

This recent debacle will have even more serious effects on family members and loved ones who are trying to get training posts. The BMA said this morning that 34,250 doctors were trying to find posts, but that only 18,500 posts were available. The BMA also said that the vast majority—two thirds—of those doctors will not stay in the NHS. This is a crazy situation. We need those doctors to stay in the NHS—they have been paid for by taxpayers’ money—but under this Secretary of State’s leadership, if we can call it that, there is massive distrust in the system.

I have already said that there is a real, and unsurprising, failure of confidence in the MTAS system, the computerised application system for recruitment. I am afraid, however, that once again Conservative Members are, deliberately or inadvertently, muddling up the numbers. There are 32,000 eligible candidates for training posts. There are 23,000 training posts—more than ever before. Of the applicants, about 30,000 are already working in the NHS. Some are in training posts, but thousands are in non-training junior doctor posts—staff posts, non-career consultant grade posts, and so on. All those jobs will continue to be needed in the NHS. It is therefore simply wrong to say that an applicant who does not get a training post, or does not get the training post that he or she wanted, will inevitably be unemployed.

Having spent three decades in large-scale public sector IT, I must say that I tend to agree with the chairman of the BMA, in his letter to the Secretary of State this morning, that the IT system concerned is relatively simple, and that technological failings would tend to remove the confidence of patients in the care system being developed. Will the Secretary of State indicate how she will reassure the wider general public? Will she bring in the Office of Government Commerce to consider the lamentable lapse by Methods Consulting, which seems to have been instrumental in this latest debacle?

I have already explained what we are doing about the two lapses that took place last week, and the failures of Methods—human failings rather than inbuilt system failings—which allowed that to happen. On the much broader issue of the electronic patient record, we have known from the beginning that it was essential to have the highest possible level of security before putting confidential medical details about NHS patients into an electronic system. It is well worth saying, however, that the current manual system is not exactly a model of security, and that regrettable breaches of privacy and confidentiality have been reported on various occasions over many years. Because of the concerns about electronic patient records, we have gone to considerable lengths over some years to put in place a carefully worked out patient record guarantee, and to discuss that with patient representative organisations, the BMA and many others in the medical profession. We are currently piloting the electronic patient record in a small number of places in the country, to establish that there is justified public confidence in the electronic patient record.

Is the Secretary of State briefed on a daily basis on the material on the Mums4Medics and Remedy UK websites? Does she agree that the interest of the broadcast and print media has brought to public attention many of the issues from which junior doctors were suffering without the knowledge of the outside world? Will she try to clear up the eligibility issue? When I took it up with a deanery, I was told that the issue was nationally determined, whereas the Secretary of State said that it was determined by deaneries. It should not be possible for deaneries to have inconsistent views on eligibility, so will she have a clearing desk at the Department? Finally, will she give an answer on whether it is possible to apply for round 2 without having applied for round 1, given that many doctors are waiting for exam results and, on advice, withheld their applications at the beginning?

I do indeed keep up to date with the Remedy UK and other relevant websites. Various websites have raised concerns, particularly about last Wednesday’s security lapse, suggesting, for instance, that people’s future credit rating might be compromised. That is why I have taken pains not only to establish the facts and to deal with the security breach, but to put the information that we have so far been able to establish directly into the public domain.

On the issue of eligibility, there is one set of rules about eligibility in relation to immigration status, and there are specific eligibility criteria that relate to different posts, at different levels of seniority, in different specialties. In both cases, the postgraduate deaneries check whether individual candidates are eligible, in relation to their immigration status and their educational qualifications and experience, for the jobs for which they have applied. As for round 2, the review group is considering that at the moment, and I shall make a further statement in due course.

Obviously my right hon. Friend cannot say exactly when the website will reopen, because of the rigorous checks that will be required, but can she reassure us that the delays will not jeopardise junior doctors’ training?

That is an important point. Had it not been for the publicity and the heightened risk of people hacking into the site, the initial investigation by MWR InfoSecurity would have provided enough reassurance to enable us to reopen it; but because of that heightened sensitivity and the need to restore junior doctors’ confidence in the system, we decided to take a little longer, and to involve the national technical professions as I described. That will ensure that, without creating any unnecessary delays, we can give people the security assurance to which they are entitled and which I certainly intend to obtain.

Will this arrogant Secretary of State for once simply say sorry, instead of blaming “Channel 4 News” and ITN for the shambles?

I have already apologised to junior doctors for the additional anxiety and worries created by last week’s episode.

This breach is extremely unfortunate, and a number of my constituents have written to me expressing their concerns—but what concerns them most is progress. My right hon. Friend told my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry) that it would take “a little longer” to get the site up and running. Can she be more specific? In my constituency and nationwide, junior doctors are keen to get on with it.

I know my hon. Friend will understand that I cannot say this afternoon exactly when we will be able to reopen the website, but I stress to her constituents and others that if it takes longer to establish the necessary level of security and assurance, I believe that that is worth while. The individual postgraduate deaneries have already said that if necessary they will make other administrative arrangements to contact junior doctors, confirm their interview dates and go ahead with the 15,500 additional interviews that have been made available as a direct result of the work of Professor Neil Douglas and his review group.

I think I owe it to the Hansard reporters to ask the Secretary of State to direct her remarks to the microphone. If she does not, it makes things very difficult for them.

Wading valiantly through this continuing disaster are more than 30,000 junior hospital doctors. When I asked the Secretary of State to give regular progress reports last week, I did not expect her to be back this week explaining that the situation had worsened. Will she ensure that when the Department thinks it has put the situation back on the rails, she—or perhaps her successor—can come to the House and reassure us that enough training posts will be available for the commitment and dedication of junior hospital doctors not to be lost?

I do not think that either of us expected to be dealing with this subject again quite so soon, but I stress again that already more training posts are available than have been available in the NHS before—the 23,000 to which I referred last week—and that in addition we will have new training posts. They are currently being established between the postgraduate deans and the service, and will be validated by PMETB—the Postgraduate Medical Education and Training Board—because that is a requirement for training posts. Moreover, we will still have the staff posts, the non-consultant grade career posts, that already exist in the service. Thousands of applicants for training posts are currently employed in those posts, and will continue to be employed in them if their applications are not successful.

Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that she believes that to date there has been no criminal activity as a result of the website problem?

I cannot assure my hon. Friend that there has been no criminal activity. There may have been, but we do not know yet. Investigations are continuing, and if there is evidence of criminal activity it will of course be reported to the proper authorities.

For many years I was involved in IT systems development, including writing a security system to protect online records, which was used by the NHS. The Secretary of State described the second breach in the following terms: “applicants…could randomly access another candidate's messages on the messaging facility…by varying the digits of their own message reference”—without, it appears, requiring a different password related to that different message reference. I am wholly shocked. Who agreed the security testing plan? Who signed it off? Who agreed, approved and signed off the outcome of the security testing plan for MTAS? Will she agree to place in the Library the full technical details of the security plan and its outcome, so that those in the know can have a look at those things to determine whether the Department signed off and approved something that may not have been wholly appropriate?

On the first point, to access the MTAS website any junior doctor applicant has, of course, to enter his unique identifier and user password, but the hon. Gentleman is right that it appears—this is what I have been informed—that an applicant who was already legitimately on the site could access part, not all, of other candidates’ messages without going through a further password approval. Again, further investigations are going on into that point, but the security breach is being remedied and will be tested and assured before the website, and that messaging facility, are restored.

Procurement, the security specifications and so on were a matter for the Department, but also for the programme management board. I have asked the Office of Government Commerce to look at the details of that procurement, so that we can learn any necessary lessons—although I stress that Methods was already an approved Government contractor. The hon. Gentleman asked me to put into the Library the full technical details of the security systems on the site. I do not propose to do so, because although that might be helpful to him, it might also be helpful to others possibly less well disposed than he.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s continued openness and helpfulness on this matter. On 16 April, before the last two security breaches, I asked during the statement whether anyone had been disciplined for the problems that were then apparent, and she told me that

“no disciplinary or performance management steps are being taken in the Department”.—[Official Report, 16 April 2007; Vol. 459, c. 48.]

I now understand from her statement today that “appropriate steps are…being taken.” She also said in her statement that this was “an extremely serious breach of security, as well as a breach of contract between the IT provider”—Methods—“and the Department of Health.” Can she tell me whether Methods has had its contract terminated over those two security breaches, and if not, why not?

No, we have not terminated the contract with Methods. It is responsible for the MTAS site. Our first priority is to deal with the security breaches, and to get proper, full independent assurance that the security breaches have been remedied and that there is an adequate full level of security on the site before it is restored. Our priority is to ensure that the junior doctors can complete the first round of interviews. The job offers can then be made and we can then move on to round 2. Clearly, it would be helpful to have the MTAS system back up and running, with proper security and greater confidence in it, in order to complete the interviews.

The Secretary of State said in her statement that she would be reporting this situation to the chairmen of Channel 4 and ITN. Can she possibly imagine that they are unaware of it?

Until my statement this afternoon, I have no idea whether the chairmen of ITN and Channel 4 News were aware of the details of what has happened, the length of time that elapsed between their beginning to access the site and actually telling us about it, or the extent of the access that was available to them. What they do with the information is entirely a matter for them, but I do intend to draw it to their attention.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that both the BMA and the royal colleges are still in favour of reforming the system of appointment to training posts? If not, when did they change their minds? It would be helpful if there was at least some consistency from the medical profession.

The BMA and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges have been involved for many years in the review of medical training that has led to the decision to create modernising medical careers, as they were also involved in the successful establishment of the foundation programme two years ago. They remain closely involved, in particular through Professor Douglas’ review group, in helping to ensure that we overcome the serious difficulties that have arisen with the MTAS system. Those difficulties do not call into question the underlying principles of modernising medical careers or the substance of the new training programme, which remains widely supported. The problems have arisen, in the first year of transition to the new specialty training posts, with the system for application, shortlisting and interviewing. We are in the process of working through that, and I am grateful to the BMA and the academy for continuing to help us ensure that as quickly as possible we get junior doctors properly interviewed and job offers made—and that we do that in a way that is absolutely fair to junior doctors and meets the needs of the service and, above all, of patients.

Order. If I am to call all Members who still wish to ask a question of the Secretary of State, I must ask for single questions and brief answers.

The Secretary of State said that she hoped that interviews would be finished by early June. May I remind her of the case of my constituent about whom I have corresponded extensively with her Department? He is currently serving as a junior doctor in Afghanistan with the Territorial Army, and he has now had to fly back from there to have his interview. Given the very large increase in TA medical presence projected for next year, I urge the Secretary of State in reviewing the system to ensure that this category of junior doctor, small as it is, does not get disadvantaged again.

Why do junior doctors have to declare their sexual orientation in making their applications in this competition, and will the Secretary of State give a categorical assurance that any junior doctor who declines to do so, in the light of the monumental mess that has recently arisen, will not be discriminated against in the intense competition for these posts?

That is equal opportunities information, obtained simply for the purposes of monitoring. It is fairly standard nowadays. That information does not form part of the decision on whether a job offer should be made to someone, and of course, people are not penalised if they do not supply it.

Was it ever requested that the data upload on to the MTAS website be password protected? Was Methods ever asked that? If it was not, why did the Secretary of State not take a closer interest, given that the website has been a shambles from start to finish, and given the order in which events arose and decisions were taken?

The issue was simply that the postgraduate deaneries needed the information, and it would have to be supplied from MTAS. The decision to upload the data in the way in which it was done was made, improperly, by an individual at Methods. We could do nothing about that until we learned about it.

Is not the reality that on the 10th anniversary of Labour coming into office, suitably qualified junior doctors do not have training posts and hospitals are at risk of losing services? If the Secretary of State thinks that that is wrong, please can she explain to my constituents why for the first time in almost half a century the Horton general hospital in my constituency is at risk of losing 24/7 children’s services and consultant-led obstetric services because—we are told, among other reasons—there are insufficient junior doctors? What happened to “24 hours to save the NHS”?

In the last 10 years under this Labour Government we have ensured—against opposition from the Conservative party—that the NHS has more than 30,000 more doctors, more than 80,000 more nurses and about 280,000 more employees in total. I well remember what was happening 10 years ago, when our constituents, and those of the hon. Gentleman, were waiting 18 months, or two years or more, for a desperately needed hip replacement operation, and when cardiac death rates were among the highest in Europe. Patients know very well just how bad things were under the Conservatives, and how much better they are now—how much better and faster they are being cared for as a result of the policies of this Labour Government.