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Health: Medical Careers

Volume 690: debated on Tuesday 27 March 2007

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

In my Statement to the House on 19 March, (Official Report, col. 557-8) I set out the background to the review of the new national recruitment and selection process for doctors in postgraduate training. I outlined the decisions that had been made by the review group up to that date. As the review group continued to meet last week, the purpose of this Statement is to provide a further update on progress.

The review group issued a further statement on 22 March. This said:

Building on last week's announcement, at a minimum, every long-listable applicant who applied through Medical Training Application Service (MTAS) and meets the eligibility criteria for their relevant specialty will be invited for an interview. Under this guaranteed interview scheme, candidates will be able to choose which of their preferences to be interviewed for in light of geographic specialty-specific and specialty training level-specific competition ratios which will be available on the MTAS website. We are in discussion about the implications of this for the timetable.

The recruitment system has worked satisfactorily for general practice and this will continue. In other specialities, there is evidence that the short-listing process was weak and we will therefore eliminate this part of the process immediately. In contrast, the interview process has been working and therefore the revised approach will ensure that all long-listable candidates will be interviewed. The review group believes that this new approach is the most equitable and practical solution available. The group also recognises the enormous effort by the consultants, service and deans that has already taken place to ensure that the interview process has worked. The time and effort required for further interviews is recognised by the service and the time required will be made available. Therefore first choice interviews that have already taken place should not need to be repeated.

In accordance with the advice already issued, we reiterate that all interviews will be informed by the use of CVs and portfolios and probing questions.

In broad terms, this means that all eligible applicants at every stage of their training, whether or not they have already had interviews or interview offers, will be able to review their stated first choice preference and have the opportunity to select the one for which they want to be interviewed. We will be discussing operational details over the next week and these may differ between specialties and between different parts of the UK dependent on local circumstances. We will also consult widely. Exact details of how applicants will be able to do this will be available week commencing 2 April on the MMC website at www.mmc.nhs.uk. In the mean time, interviews will continue and applicants should attend unless they are confident that this will not be their preferred choice.

No job offers will be made until all these interviews have taken place. Discussions are taking place on the implications of this for the filling of general practice training places. We expect that the majority of training places will be filled through these interviews. Unfilled vacancies will be filled through further interviews.

The review group has recommended the development of a programme of career support for applicants at all stages of the process. Further details to support applicants, deans and selectors through this process will be available next week on the MMC website. Future work will explore what the possibilities might be for doctors to change specialties.

This represents a reasonable way forward to meet both the aspirations of junior doctors and the timetable for making appointments for August. I therefore regret the fact that the British Medical Association representatives have withdrawn from the group. Despite this, the important work of the review group will continue and I encourage the British Medical Association representatives to come back to the table to ensure that all stakeholders can work together to take forward a workable solution to these issues.

I am glad to note that the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges supports this revised approach. It believes that with the work of the review group it offers the most equitable and practical solution available.

The timetable for the group's work is very tight and the next two weeks will see important progress. Applicants, consultants, employers and all those with a stake in the process will be anxious to be kept informed of progress. I trust that the House will understand if we continue to issue updates on important developments during the recess.

As ever, 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.