Skip to main content

Medical Training Application Service

Volume 460: debated on Tuesday 22 May 2007

6. What recent representations she has received on the performance of the medical training application service. (138341)

The Department has received over 1,300 letters on the topic of Modernising Medical Careers and MTAS this year. Department officials have also had meetings with, and representations from, many organisations, including the royal colleges, the British Medical Association and Remedy UK.

What lessons does the Secretary of State believe there are to be learned from the recent actions of the BMA’s outgoing chair, Dr. James Johnson?

James Johnson’s resignation is a matter for the BMA. It would not be appropriate for me to comment.

Most of the House will welcome the service that James Johnson has given over recent years, to the BMA and in other ways. My question to the Secretary of State has to do with MTAS. Does the Department recognise that examination candidates who want to check whether their marks have been added together correctly— or whether their papers have been marked at all—should get an appropriate response before the end of round 2?

The hon. Gentleman refers to the Information Commissioner’s recent ruling. As a result of the commissioner’s letter to the Department, a meeting is being arranged between him and appropriate officials to agree the way forward.

I am aware that the Secretary of State has apologised for the way in which MTAS was carried out. In my meetings with junior doctors, who are extremely concerned about the situation, it became clear that they have a strong commitment to, and belief in, the national health service, so will my right hon. Friend indicate how we can reassure those doctors that they are indeed valued?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the enormous commitment of junior doctors, and other health care professionals, to the NHS. In relation to recruitment to medical training, I stress that the interviews in round 1, which include an interview for every applicant, are nearly complete and, subject of course to the outcome of the judicial review, job offers will start to be made as soon as the result of the judicial review is known. By sorting out the very real problems and distress that have arisen this year, we will indeed be able to reassure junior doctors in particular about how much we value them and to ensure that they have a good future in the NHS.

Ministerial mismanagement led to the computer chaos that is the medical training application service, which has failed to deliver a fair, open, transparent and efficient selection process for junior doctors, and even threw in for good measure a massive breach of personal security. Can the Secretary of State tell us today how many available training posts there are now for junior doctors and how many applicants there are? If we have those two facts, we can calculate how many thousands of junior doctors will not get a training place this August.

As I have said before, across the United Kingdom there are about 32,700 eligible applicants in the MTAS system, of whom more than 30,000 are already employed in the NHS. There are 23,500 training posts in total, including the GP training posts for which recruitment is separate from MTAS. Let me stress again that thousands of the applicants are currently employed by the NHS in non-training posts and all those jobs—in total, more than 30,000—will continue to be needed to ensure that patients continue to receive the excellent care the NHS provides.

What is my right hon. Friend’s assessment of the article in The Independent today that argues that we should not get excited about the MTAS situation, because due to the expansion in the number of doctors in our medical schools under the Labour Government there will be greater competition for some of the best training jobs?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I thought that the editorial in The Independent this morning was a breath of fresh air and rationality when the media have not really been characterised by accurate or rational reporting on this subject. The reality is that there are more junior doctors, and indeed other healthcare professionals, in training for the NHS than ever before. There has always been intense competition for the specialty training posts that lead to a consultancy for successful applicants. That competition is intense this year, but more doctors and even better trained doctors, with the best of them becoming consultants, is all good news for patients.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the ability to speak in Welsh is a valuable occupational qualification for doctors working with children and older people—

Yes—and some in England. Where was that valuable occupational qualification addressed in the application form or in the application process?

I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman will be disappointed to learn that we do not propose to make Welsh an occupational qualification for doctors in England.

Junior doctor rotation has always been a difficult time, and over all the time when I was involved in the health service many a junior doctor did not get the specialist job he or she wanted. We have heard about the intense competition due to the massive increase in doctors in training, so to go on from what has been said already, will my right hon. Friend indicate what support is available for junior doctors who are trying to get through the process at present?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that at this point we should focus on the solutions, rather than simply restating the problem. As I have indicated, job offers for round 1 will be made, subject to the outcome of the judicial review and as soon as we know that court judgment. Detailed information on that process is going out to applicants very shortly. Once we have the court judgment from the judicial review, we will be able to give applicants further details of how round 2 —the next round of recruitment—will be organised and the support that will be available to applicants throughout that process and beyond, as we look to the end of that further round of recruitment.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the statement of Nicholas Greenfield to the judicial review proceedings last week disclosed that on 25 April there was a report to the review group that disclosed that there were serious flaws with the software within MTAS. Was she informed of those serious problems at that time? If so, why did she not tell the House of those problems in her statement on 1 May? Is it not outrageous that in her statement last week she made no reference to the fact that she had no option but to abandon MTAS, because the system was not working?

The hon. Gentleman, I am afraid not for the first time, has simply misrepresented the position. First, MTAS has not been abandoned. It has been reopened to the postgraduate deaneries, which can continue to use it for the recruitment process. On the issue of the software, as I told the House last week, because of the continuing concerns of junior doctors—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) should listen to the point that I am making, because it is important. Despite the security improvements that have been made to MTAS, because of the continuing concerns of junior doctors, we decided not to use it for the process of matching applicants to job offers. One of the concerns expressed by the junior doctor representatives on the review group related to the fact that the new software that would be needed to match the applicants to the jobs had not been completed and, because of the other problems, there would not be time to test it properly. That was part of the background to what I told the House last week about the continuing concerns that led us to decide not to use MTAS for the job offer process. That was a perfectly sensible decision. There is no question of misleading the House and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not repeat that allegation.

Will the Secretary of State now tell the House how many additional training posts the review group has asked the Department of Health to provide for? This is the fifth time in over two months that I have asked the Secretary of State to make a commitment to provide for additional training posts and she still has not done so.

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman will have to wait until we have the outcome of the judicial review. I will then announce how many additional training posts will be made available for round 2 and other details of round 2.

The Secretary of State will recall that on Sunday James Johnson said that the medical training scheme had been characterised by policy failures. Who does the Secretary of State hold responsible for those policy failures?

As I have said in the House before, Modernising Medical Careers has been a joint effort by the Department of Health, Ministers, the royal colleges, the British Medical Association, the work force deaneries and many others, all of whom have been involved in addressing the problems that were highlighted many years ago by the BMA itself when it rightly called for a new system of training to replace the thoroughly unsatisfactory old system whereby senior house officers became known as the lost tribe because they simply did not have the support that was needed. We know perfectly well that the implementation of the application and recruitment system for this year has not worked properly. We have had a lot of problems with it—we hardly need to say that in this Chamber. We are sorting that out and I take responsibility for doing so.