Skip to main content

NHS: Doctors’ Training

Volume 691: debated on Thursday 3 May 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How many doctors they estimate will fail to obtain a training post this year as a result of recent problems with the appointments system.

My Lords, we are working to ensure that no doctors will fail to obtain a training post because of problems with the MTAS. As has always been the case, some doctors will be unsuccessful in obtaining a post because of the intense competition.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his short reply. I should make it clear that I am not trying to lay all the blame for this disaster at the feet of the Government, because it is unclear to me who was responsible. However, this has happened when we can ill afford to lose such a large cohort of doctors, and the BMA suggests that the numbers may be rather higher than each year’s output from UK medical schools. What can be done to support and encourage these doctors to continue in medicine? Many of them have young families to support, but they suddenly find that no training posts are available and their careers are blighted. What can be done to ensure that we keep them in the NHS and do not waste this powerful resource?

My Lords, as I said in the Answer, there has always been competition for specialty training posts, as there ought to be; these are the consultants and GPs of the future. Clearly, we want to ensure that the process is back on track and that the interview process is as rigorous as possible. Most of the doctors who are applying for the specialty training places already work in the NHS. We very much hope that those who are unsuccessful will be able to continue working in the NHS and we will establish ways of helping them to do so.

My Lords, how many doctors who have chosen their specialty have not been interviewed and are sitting in limbo getting very disillusioned and disheartened?

My Lords, no one should be sitting in limbo. As I have already said, most of those doctors are either currently in training posts or working in the National Health Service. My understanding is that approximately 40,000 interviews were due to have taken place in round 1A, which should have been completed, and around 17,000 interviews may take place in round 1B. As the outcome of that process, training posts will be offered. Following that, further training posts will be available for unsuccessful applicants, and that will take place according to the timetable laid down by the review body that we have established to help us in this area.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that in 2004 the vacancy rate for consultant psychiatry posts was double the average of all other consultant posts at 9.6 per cent compared with 4.3 per cent? Is he taking any special measures to ensure that the specialisms in psychiatry are not impeded by the current problems?

My Lords, there is no reason why they should be. Part of the work being done with doctors who apply for training for specialty posts involves showing them the ratio of applicants to places, and, in specialties where there is a shortage, that may be a way of encouraging more people to apply. Overall, the three-month vacancy rate for 2006 was down to 1.9 per cent for consultants, which is lower than it has been for some considerable time.

My Lords, discussions have taken place with representatives of overseas doctors and doctors from various ethnic groups. Of course, we aim to make this process as fair as possible.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the appalling security breach revealed by Channel 4 the other day. In her Statement on Tuesday in another place, the Secretary of State said that confidential information about junior doctors stored on the MTAS website was accessed by,

“21 different internet addresses, mostly belonging to postgraduate deaneries”.—[Official Report, Commons, 1/5/07; col. 1367.]

Can the Minister confirm whether any of those internet addresses were not from postgraduate deaneries? If not, who else accessed the confidential details held on the MTAS website?

My Lords, the noble Earl will know that we are deeply concerned about the breach and, indeed, about the nature of the information that was made available. Two things have happened. First, an inquiry is still taking place. We hope to get the result of it very shortly—over the next few days—and we will then be able to give as many details as possible about what happened. Secondly, an independent company was brought in last weekend to carry out a review of the current security procedures. It made a number of recommendations, which are being acted on, and a further audit of the security system is taking place. The system has not gone live and will not do so until we are satisfied that it is as secure as possible.

My Lords, given the response that the Minister has just made to the noble Earl, can he assure the House that the full inquiry into the MTAS system and applications for medical placements will be fully independent of government?

My Lords, first, most of the key decisions around this new system have been made in collaboration with the Government and various medical organisations. Secondly, two reviews are taking place. One is the Douglas review, which is looking at immediate issues, and which has been extremely helpful in advising the Government on how to deal with the current problems. A second review will be chaired by Sir John Tooke. Of course, he is a wholly independent person, and we shall listen carefully to the advice that he offers.