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The Department and the review group seem to be carrying on with an absurd scoring system. How can applicants’ clinical experience, academic achievements and references be treated as so unimportant in decisions on appointments to training posts? Who
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designed this crass process of application by anecdote rather than by achievement? I have an example of the scoring system before me. Has the Secretary of State ever read one? How can she justify relevant academic and research experience being worth a maximum of nine points out of 45? A PhD is worth one point, but composing a 150-word answer to a question about how the applicant has coped with stress is worth up to four points. Why do the Government not want the best training posts to go to the best doctors?

If it is clear that the system cannot deliver a fair outcome to thousands of highly qualified doctors, who will be left without good training posts, will the Secretary of State abandon the online system and revert to a conventional application and interview process? If it is deemed necessary by the review group, will she sanction extra training posts by reclassifying staff or trust-grade posts? Will she explicitly repeat the assurance that her former Minister, Lord Warner, gave just three months ago, that

I have received hundreds of letters and e-mails from distressed and angry junior doctors, and 12,000 of them marched on Saturday. They are the future of our medical profession, and if we want a consultant-led specialist-delivered service in the future, we will need them. As it is, we risk losing them; we will lose some from the profession, and many others to Australia, Canada and elsewhere. Instead of sticking her head in the sand, will the Secretary of State promise doctors that modernising medical careers will be changed? Finally, will she just say sorry to them?

Ms Hewitt: The hon. Gentleman referred to modernising medical careers as being dumbed-down, but it is nothing of the kind. Modernising medical careers is the outcome of years of work by the medical royal colleges— [Interruption.] I realise that Opposition Members are not in the least bit interested in the views of the medical royal colleges, but they play an important part in the training of our future doctors. Modernising medical careers is the outcome of work by the medical royal colleges, postgraduate deans, the British Medical Association, junior doctors and other key partners, including NHS employers across the country.

If the hon. Gentleman really thinks, as he seems to, that the new system is a disaster compared to the old, perhaps he needs to listen to Dr. Simon Eccles, a consultant at Homerton University hospital, and a former chairman— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I remind hon. Members that I agreed to a request from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman for the Secretary of State to come to the Chamber and make a statement; she must be listened to.

Ms Hewitt: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Dr. Simon Eccles, the former chairman of the BMA junior doctors committee— [Interruption.] I said that he was the former chairman; the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) should listen. Dr. Eccles said:

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He described how consultants would decide who to shortlist by simply dividing the piles into two and tossing a coin. One was the lucky pile, and would make the shortlist; the other one did not. That was scarcely— [Interruption.] I am simply quoting a former chairman of the BMA junior doctors committee, referring to some of the reasons why the old system needed replacing.

Both the BMA and the royal colleges have representatives of their junior doctor members on the review group. It has always been the case under the new system that when applications are submitted, the full CV and portfolio can be, and generally are, attached. There was confusion about the interpretation of guidance from the independent Postgraduate Medical Education and Training Board—PMETB—but I am glad to say that that guidance has been clarified. On the issue of MTAS, let me quote the independent PMETB:

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire, however, believes that we should go back to the old non-computerised system, under which junior doctors had to fill in a different application, with different information and using a different format, for every post around the country for which they wanted to apply. It was a completely absurd system.

On the question of numbers, there are just over 32,000 eligible applicants for the available places on training programmes—those figures apply to the UK as a whole—and the number of training posts is about 23,000. May I stress the fact that in many regions, as the postgraduate deans have confirmed, the system is working well, as it is for GP applicants? However, that is not the case everywhere, which is precisely why we set up the independent review group, why we brought in the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and the BMA, and why every one of their recommendations has been accepted and is now being implemented. Finally, the hon. Gentleman is keen to ask us to spend even more money than we have already invested in the national health service, but he is not willing to vote for that extra investment. His party’s economic policy would mean cuts of billions of pounds in the national health service in one year alone.

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that both the MMC and the MTAS schemes were quality assessed and assured by experts in the field, which is why they were introduced? There was a process to bring them into line with current thinking, both in Europe and in this country.

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend is right. A great deal of development work, quality assurance and so on went into the MTAS process and, more broadly, into modernising medical careers. There have been real problems this year, as I said in my statement, which is why we are working with the review group to sort them out and learn further lessons for round 2, and for next year.

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Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): Given the shambles, let me begin on a charitable note. The Government have clearly and openly acknowledged the shortcomings in the recruitment system, yet the BMA stated last year that the system was badly organised, did not draw out people’s expertise and would not cope with demand. Was it those shortcomings that the Government had in mind, and do they regret not agreeing with the BMA and failing to act earlier? Do they agree with the Royal College of Physicians that the system was rushed? Do they agree with the royal colleges that CVs should be taken into account, and that previous achievement should not be neglected in application forms? Where else does that happen? Do they agree with Jo Hilborne, chair of the BMA training committee, that junior doctors do receive careers guidance early enough? Do they regret their failure to listen, having scored such an unnecessary own goal?

Turning to other matters, why did the website crash, and how often did it crash? Was that another IT systems failure or another example of lack of anticipation by the Government? Who is responsible for it, and were any warnings given by IT providers? Does it not bode ill for “Connecting for Health”, if and when it is ever up and running? What assessment has been made of the likely destiny of unsuccessful applicants, even under the reformed system? Are 8,000 people to be rendered jobless in this country, and how would that affect future training programmes? How many people in total can expect hospital posts? Finally, on an issue of principle on which there is more than one perspective, do the Government agree with the royal colleges that it was a mistake to take statutory training responsibility away from them, and will that, as well as the fate of our young doctors, fall within the remit of Professor Douglas’s review?

Ms Hewitt: On the last point, as I have already indicated, there has been widespread consultation and agreement about the need to introduce modernising medical careers. The problems that have arisen with implementation this year do not in any way undermine support for the principles and the organisation of MMC.

The hon. Gentleman speaks of introduction being rushed, but work on modernising medical careers and on its implementation has gone on since about 2003. That could not possibly be described as rushed. A great deal of work was done, especially in the second half of last year, to ensure that the systems were as robust as they could be, and that implementation was properly prepared for. What has happened is that, particularly in some parts of the country, and particularly for some specialties, there have been significantly more applications than was predicted. We certainly need, at an appropriate point, to learn the lessons from that for future years.

My understanding is that it is not true to say that the MTAS IT system crashed, although because of the volume of applications there were undoubtedly delays at various stages in accepting them. Although the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) did not refer to it, I have heard others suggest that some candidates’ applications were lost in the process—and I understand that that too is untrue.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether there would be 8,000 jobless doctors. There will be nothing of the
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kind. Of the 32,300 eligible applicants, the vast majority—over 29,000—are already working in the NHS, on foundation programmes, in other training places or in other medical posts in the NHS. Those doctors will continue to be needed, so the shroud-waving about unemployed doctors is absurd.

The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire need to recognise that because of our Government’s investment in the NHS, and because we are training more doctors— [Interruption.] The Opposition do not like to hear it, but because we are training more doctors than ever before, competition for consultant training places is greater than ever before. We need to ensure that those candidates, our future doctors, are given all the support they need as they go through an increasingly competitive and inevitably stressful process, and that is precisely what we are doing.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State allow me to emphasise how inadequate the previous system was? Did not she receive, as I did, complaints from women doctors and black doctors that they did not get a fair look-in for training opportunities, and that they felt that the old system was run as an old boy network? And can she give an undertaking to one junior doctor who e-mailed me: will a majority of the review panel be composed of people who did not set up the original scheme?

Ms Hewitt: My right hon. Friend makes extremely important points about the old system. There is no doubt that the old system depended a great deal more on who candidates knew, not what they knew. The result was a great deal of discrimination within the system, which could never be properly addressed or corrected because it was invisible. That is one of the many reasons why modernising medical careers is such an improvement on the old system. It is fair, it is transparent and it sets the same criteria, the same interviewing processes and so on, right across the country. That never happened in the completely devolved and shambolic system that was used previously. On the review group, it is essential that we have not only the representatives of the junior doctors, but the representatives of the medical royal colleges, as they are responsible both for the training and for the development of the specialist curricula for which the doctors are competing.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Does the Minister not realise that the new scheme is likely to lead to serious managerial problems in many of our hospitals, which will lead to a diminution of care and an extended waiting list?

Ms Hewitt: No, I do not accept that. Hospitals will benefit from a much better, much more thorough training system that will get rid of the old system—in which, as a former chairman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges described it, senior house officers were a kind of lost tribe filling in time between properly structured and assessed training. There is no doubt at all that the improvements in training that will come with modernising medical careers will be good for doctors and good for patients.

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Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): The House accepts that the old system was unsatisfactory and that a lot of work has gone into the new system, but it has left junior doctors genuinely in uproar. Some of them contacted me this morning to ask me to put this to the Secretary of State: given that the implementation of the new system appears to be fatally flawed, is it right to continue to allocate jobs before the review gives its final report at the end of the month?

Ms Hewitt: Whether round 1 should be delayed or scrapped was one of the first issues that the review group considered at its first meeting, and it has come back to it since. The review group has been clear that round 1 should continue, because otherwise the interviews of thousands of junior doctors would be completely disrupted and hospitals could well find themselves in August without the junior doctors they need in place to continue operating. For that reason, the review group recommended, and we accepted, that round 1 should continue but with the immediate changes that it recommended, and we have made, to ensure that the system works properly, that it is fair to junior doctors, and that it enables the NHS to get the best doctors for all the places that it is seeking to fill.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Can the Secretary of State explain how going ahead with the first part of the stage 1 interviews and appointments can be fair if the other doctors who are now excluded but will be brought in later are being considered on a different basis? Will she take up the suggestion that she use the MTAS system to carry out a ballot of all the doctors in training to ask them what they think would be fair, and whether it would be better to stop and start again on an equal basis, or to continue on this unequal basis? Will she please get her people to talk to the directors of medical education and ask them to nominate the people who they know should have been interviewed but have not, just to show what has so clearly gone off course?

Ms Hewitt: In a sense, the hon. Gentleman’s suggestions have already been considered by the review group, which has received evidence and listened to representations from a very wide range of people. For instance, 84 per cent. of the most junior of the junior doctors—the ST2 junior doctors who have completed the two-year foundation programme—have already been given a round 1 interview. The remainder are having their applications reassessed, and many will, as a result, also be given a round 1 interview. However, the review group has been very clear—and I support it in this—that the way to proceed is to make immediate changes so that round 1 operates better and more fairly, as it is already doing in other specialisms and in some parts of the country, and then, if necessary, to make further changes for round 2 so that lessons from round 1 are learned. As I stressed earlier, we have made it clear to those making the appointments that they should not appoint from round 1 unless they are absolutely satisfied with the calibre of candidates—although several of the postgraduate teams who are already involved in those round 1 interviews say that they are delighted with the calibre of candidates, and where they are considering making appointments, they are finding it even easier to do so than in the past.

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Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): I am concerned about the impact that the bad publicity about this scheme could have on the new medical schools, particularly the Hull York medical school. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend offer me?

Ms Hewitt: There was enormous public and student welcome for the creation of the new medical schools and the additional medical places that we have been able to create as a result of the investment that we have made. It is important that we restore confidence, where that has been damaged, in the whole process of recruitment for consultant training, and that is exactly what we are doing with the help of the review group. When we publish its final report, we will be able to see what additional changes are needed to ensure that next year’s process works without the difficulties that we have encountered in this first year.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): We are still waiting for two things: first, an apology from the Secretary of State and, secondly, an unambiguous answer to the question that the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) asked about quality assurance, which is one of the safeguards available to anyone who introduces new systems, however much they are needed. Will she give an unambiguous answer? Have the final MMC and MTAS systems been subject to formal quality assurance—yes or no?

Ms Hewitt: My understanding is yes.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Will the Secretary of State put herself in the position of one of those extremely anxious junior doctors? Where does she think that she would be today if the Prime Minister had not been able to take into account her previous achievements before he appointed her?

Ms Hewitt: It is precisely because I put myself in the position of a junior doctor, who had worked incredibly hard and found himself or herself without the interview for which they had longed or for the specialty to which they were committed, that I was so determined to sort out the matter. That is why the minute that the scale of the problem became clear, we sat down with the academy, colleagues from the medical royal colleges and the BMA and asked them to lead an independent review process. We are now making the changes that will ensure that junior doctors can have genuine confidence in the process, which is a great deal better than the old system of medical training, that they will be treated fairly and, above all, that the NHS can appoint the best people for the large number of jobs that are now available.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Mr. Goodare of Poynton in my constituency is currently a senior house officer in anaesthetics. He and his mother have contacted me, and both were in London on Saturday for the march and demonstration. What assurance can the Secretary of State give my constituent, who is a highly trained and motivated young man, that he will have a job next year? She has admitted that there has been a problem. The simple
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thing for her to do is apologise and give an assurance that people who are so worried and can help the health service have a job.

Ms Hewitt: As the hon. Gentleman knows, more doctors and other professionals are employed in the NHS now than ever before. However, the NHS has never been able to guarantee employment, especially not in the specialty or place of an individual’s choice to every individual who comes through medical training. We have increased the number of medical trainees to such an extent that competition is even greater. Given the hon. Gentleman’s description of his constituent, I am sure that he will have not only a fair hearing in the training and assessment system that is being improved, but every chance of success.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I am sorry that the Secretary of State did not give my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) a more comprehensive reply. Like me, he will have received at the weekend an e-mail from a senior clinician at Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. It made the point that, as of July, only two out of 22 anaesthetists—senior house officers—will be available. That will have a massive impact on clinical care, especially on epidurals for pregnant women and other issues related to pregnancy. When will the Secretary of State apologise for that likely state of affairs, admit that the Department got it wrong and move on?

Ms Hewitt: It is a matter for each hospital to ensure that it employs the right number of people with the right specialist skills to offer a safe service to pregnant women or any other patient. I am sure that the hospital to which the hon. Gentleman refers and every other hospital will continue to do that.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Earlier, the Secretary of State failed—inadvertently, I am sure—to answer a question. May I therefore be helpful and ask it again? How can we have any faith in a system that awards one point for a PhD yet four points for dealing with stress?

Ms Hewitt: As I said when I cited the independent Postgraduate Medical Education and Training Board, the scoring system and the whole process for applications was developed by the postgraduate deans, working with the Department and other partners. It is not up to Ministers to determine the number of points that should be awarded for different aspects of what is inevitably a complex system. The review group will be able to consider that as it examines other aspects of the system. If it wants to recommend changes, we will, of course, take that seriously.

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