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News of the Day ... In Perspective

6/12/2007

NHS abandons computerized system for selecting junior doctors

After thousands of junior doctors marched in protest and filed a lawsuit that ultimately failed, the computerized Medical Training Application Service (MTAS) was sidelined. It will not be used for matching candidates to training posts but only for “national monitoring.”

“The Department of Health has at last seen sense and effectively abandoned the unfair, discredited, and shambolic MTAS system,” said Dr. Andrew Roland, vice chairman of the British Medical Association Junior Doctors Committee (Personneltoday.com 5/16/07).

Trainees suffered months of anxiety about the prospect of unemployment, as 30,000 applications were received for about 18,500 positions.

Then they saw all of their personal details—“a gold mine for identity theft and fraud”—exposed on the internet until a breach of computer security was repaired.

MTAS was part of the Modernising Medical Careers (MMC) program, which is supposed to “allow patients to be certain that the doctors treating them have demonstrated their competence against a set of explicitly defined criteria” (BMJcareers 10/22/05). It drastically cut the number of training posts.

The MTAS attempted to radically change the old system that analyzed applicants on the basis of examinations, research, extracurricular activities, and references. Instead, all candidates had to apply online through a system that frequently crashed. They were shortlisted on the basis of ability to write 150-word answers to “grossly deficient questions” that were compared to a daytime television game show (Guardian 3/29/07).

“I wouldn’t trust this system to select someone to water my plants,” wrote Dr. Max Pemberton. He was one of the lucky ones to be selected for an interview, which occurred in “a room filled with work stations manned by confused, bewildered looking interviewers…. It was clear they hadn’t read my form and knew nothing about me. Each asked a series of formulaic questions to which I had a few minutes to provide equally formulaic answers.”

Pemberton concluded that the process is “a clear attempt to undermine the medical profession; to ensure that we become compliant, unquestioning automatons in a system that can be presided over by managers and politicians” (Telegraph 3/13/07).

Besides the problem of morale being at an all-time low, Dr. Keir Greenhalgh wrote: “I cannot, and neither can any of my peers and seniors, including consultants, see how any hospitals will be able to function with such few staff as will be allocated” (Herald 6/3/07).

Doctors also complained that had almost no idea about the job description, salary, or location of the job they were applying for (Remedy UK 4/1/07).

Doctors will now be applying to individual deaneries.

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