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Health: Modernising Medical Careers

Volume 690: debated on Tuesday 13 March 2007

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health (Patricia Hewitt) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In my Written Ministerial Statement of 7 March (Official Report, Commons, col. 25-26WS), I set out the department’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 online Medical Training Application Service (MTAS). That process sets out national recruitment and selection criteria, documentation and standards, replacing the countless local appointment processes that had previously been in place.

Our aim, of course, is to ensure that we recruit the right people for the right jobs for the benefit of the National Health Service, its patients and staff. As a result, the new arrangements were developed with the help of the medical royal colleges, trainee doctors and others. 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 specialty training programme since 22 January 2007, and interviews have already begun. A large number of posts will not be filled in the first round, and we have stressed to those interviewing in round one that they should not consider appointing unless they are absolutely satisfied with the calibre of candidates.

Although the department believes that that will deliver a fair and transparent appointments process, it is clear that there have been concerns about the selection process and that the process as a whole has created a high degree of insecurity among applicants and more widely in the profession. The review was therefore commissioned to analyse what had gone well and what needed to be improved, with a view to establishing greater confidence in the process.

The review is independent, being led by Professor Neil Douglas, vice-president of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Members of the review group include representatives of the royal colleges, the British Medical Association, the four United Kingdom health departments and employers.

The review group met on 7 and 9 March to agree immediate action and will continue its work throughout March. It decided that round one should continue but recommended immediate steps to strengthen the interview process, including allowing applicants to provide CVs and portfolios to support their applications. These steps have been communicated to the deans, and we have written to every applicant. The information is also on the MMC and MTAS websites.

As a result, some junior doctors who have expressed fears that they have been overlooked in the first round will be given the opportunity to have their application form reviewed by a trained medical adviser from a postgraduate deanery. Successful candidates will then be given an interview.

In addition, significant changes will be made to improve selection in the second round. This will include changes to the application form and the scoring system. The revised approach will now be tested with junior doctors, selectors, deanery recruitment teams and employers, and agreed with the medical royal colleges, postgraduate deans, trainee and consultant representatives and employers before it is introduced.

The review group has also recommended that further advice and information should be made available as quickly as possible for applicants. The department has agreed that that will include:

information about competition ratios by specialty, entry level and geography;

the process and timetable for making applications in the second round plus generic guidance about what panels will be looking for;

generic feedback on how applicants can improve their applications for the second round;

information about sources of support for applicants; and

enhanced “frequently asked questions” on the MTAS website, building on feedback from the first round.

This will be done as soon as possible.

I am very grateful to Professor Douglas and his colleagues for their continuing work on the review group. We will publish the group's final report once it is completed.