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Ms Hewitt: The hon. Gentleman referred to the recent resignations from the MMC team. My colleagues and I regret the resignations of both Professor Alan Crockard and Professor Shelley Heard. They are both distinguished figures in the field of
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medical education and training, and I am sure that they will both continue to make a contribution.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the MTAS system and to what he described as the “absurd selection criteria”.

Mr. Lansley: Scoring criteria.

Ms Hewitt: The development of the selection criteria and the scoring system was undertaken by members of the medical profession in consultation with all key stakeholders as well as the Department of Health. That is, of course, being reviewed, which is one of the reasons why we have the review group under Professor Neil Douglas, which is now looking at the details of round 2.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the number of applicants. As I have previously told the House, we received just over 32,000 eligible applications, the great majority of which came from people who are already working within the NHS in one capacity or another. He referred to the number of training posts and, in particular, run-through training posts, and I hope that he agrees that the number of training posts needs to be shaped by the needs of the national health service and future developments in medical technology. As part of the Department’s work with the review group, we asked the service some weeks ago to look at the number of training posts that it was making available in different specialties to see whether it wished to change either the number or the level at which those training posts become available.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to listen to the views of the medical profession and, I hope, the deaneries and others involved in medical education, which is precisely what we have been doing over many years in developing MMC, over the past two years in the successful introduction of the foundation programme and in recent weeks in this difficult transition year and the first year of implementation of full speciality training. I remind him what Dr. Jonathan Fielden, the chairman of the British Medical Association central consultants and specialists committee, has said:

We can now

Dr. Jo Hilborne, chair of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, says:

The training group of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges says that it has achieved its aim of maximising choice for applicants applying to modernising medical careers without compromising patient safety by overburdening the service.

That is why I said with confidence that the work of the review group and the changes that we have made, on the basis of its work, to this year’s process have the full support of the medical profession.

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Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend, first, on the establishment of the full review and, secondly, on her fulsome apology to those who have been affected. Will she confirm that in addition to the obvious need to get it right for the individuals concerned, it is important that the Department now concentrates on raising the morale of all those affected? Morale in the health service is worth an enormous amount of resource and of those individuals’ personal commitment, and so many of the young people affected feel that they have been neglected and, in some cases, let down by the system.

Ms Hewitt: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no doubt that because implementation in this first year of full transition to the new system was not in any way adequate, several of those highly committed junior doctors do indeed feel let down. I, and others, have fully acknowledged that. That is why enormous efforts are being made, particularly by consultants across the service. I am very grateful not only to consultants but to the service as a whole for ensuring that those consultants can be released from their normal commitments for the additional time that will be needed to interview the additional applicants who will now get interviews. That will ensure that all applicants are treated fairly and that the best people are appointed to training programmes and posts within the NHS, which is what all of us would want for the patients whom we all serve.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): I thank the Secretary of State for the advance copy of her statement.

The Secretary of State’s apology is welcome, as is the announcement of the wider review, although I think that most people will be confused about how many reviews we how have. Could not this whole debacle, which has so sapped morale in the profession, have been avoided by proper piloting and better engagement with professional groups in listening to concerns that they have been expressing for a very long time?

The statement asserts that there is no problem with the underlying principles, yet goes on to say that the wider review will

Is there a problem with the principles, or not?

Has there been any assessment of the cost of the recovery operation and the impact on patient care of thousands of additional interviews over a six-week period—and, indeed, of whether it is logistically possible?

The Secretary of State highlights the support for the review group’s proposals, but does she accept that many people do not support the plan? Does not Remedy UK have a powerful case in that the process remains deeply flawed, with so-called rescue interviews taking place later and possibly with different panel memberships? That is not a fair interview process. The statement refers to second-round interviews using a

When will the details of that be known? Is it not remarkable that no reference is made to the massive
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mismatch between the numbers of applicants and the numbers of training posts available?

What will happen to those who do not get posts? It is still not clear quite how many there will be; I heard the answer to the previous question. Has not there been a total failure of work force planning whereby thousands of expensively trained dedicated professionals may be left without specialist training posts? Will those issues be part of the wider review? The Secretary of State said that there were likely to be some extra training posts. When will we know whether that is so, and how many there will be?

Will the Secretary of State include in her review a thorough analysis of what went wrong and who is responsible for creating this crisis in the first place?

Ms Hewitt: The hon. Gentleman refers to the two reviews. We established the independent review group under Professor Neil Douglas to deal with the situation that had arisen this year. The absolute priority was to sort out the problems that had arisen with this year’s applications in order that posts could be filled, as they must be, for August, when the current posts, by and large, come to an end. That was what we had to focus on and that is what we have done for several weeks since the scale of the problem became clear.

However, we also need to ensure that we learn broader lessons for the future. As I said, I believe that the principles underlying modernising medical careers are sound, which is precisely what the review group and many others have said. However, particularly in the light of what has happened this year, we need to consider how those principles can be further reinforced and how their implementation can be further strengthened, and we are inviting the second independent review group, under Professor Sir John Tooke, to examine, for instance, some of the specific issues that have been raised about the degree of flexibility in the run-through training programmes provided under MMC.

The hon. Gentleman asks whether the new approach to round 1 interviews would be logistically possible, given the number of additional interviews that will now have to be conducted. The view that the Department, the review group and others take is that it is logistically possible, but only with considerable effort. That is why I referred, in response to the comments from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), to the fact that the service around the country will in many cases need to release consultants from their planned activities in order to make time available for the additional interviews. That is why we are keeping the timetable under review.

The hon. Member for North Norfolk referred to Remedy UK and those who had suggested that a more radical change should have been made for this year. Let me refer him to what the review group said on Wednesday 4 April:

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That conclusion of the review group, as I said, has been endorsed by the medical royal colleges and by the BMA.

The hon. Gentleman refers to the prospect or the possibility of unemployment among junior doctors. Although he did not fall into this trap, let me take the opportunity to refer to the thoroughly misleading statements made in recent weeks about the prospect of thousands of junior doctors finding themselves without work. That is complete nonsense. As I said in response to points made by the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), the great majority of eligible applicants are already working in the service.

Of course, there may be situations in which somebody who has applied for a run-through training programme is not successful in obtaining that and will therefore need to continue in the staff job or, in some cases, to apply for a staff job. The review group is working on the nature of the support that we need to give people in that position and will want to make further announcements.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): Last Friday, I met a senior house doctor who was speaking on behalf of a number of his colleagues from a variety of professions in the NHS. He said that, as far as Scotland was concerned, much ground had been recovered but that it was vital for all concerned that UK-wide progress could be made. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that ongoing efforts will be made to ensure that the progress that has been made in Scotland will be mirrored right across the country?

Ms Hewitt: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. Obviously, we are dealing with far larger numbers of applicants in England than the NHS is in Scotland, but that is why we have established the review group and why we are so determined to ensure that we implement its proposals in a way that is fair to junior doctors and other applicants and that reassures them after the anxiety and distress that have been caused. My hon. Friend referred to senior house officers, and it is worth recalling the enormous difficulties that the old training system caused, particularly for SHOs, who, on various occasions, have notoriously been described as a “lost tribe” and who often had to apply for a new job every six months without knowing whether they would be able to continue their training in their chosen specialty.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): In today’s post, I received three glossy brochures about different parts of the NHS and a letter about PCT reorganisation, which reminded me that the strategic health authority in my part of the country takes 10 per cent. of the money that goes to the hospitals and the SHA together. Is not the truth behind this crisis that there is not enough money to appoint decent doctors with appropriate experience and training because the Secretary of State’s priority is to have an NHS suitable for the glossy brochure industry and for all these reorganisations?

Ms Hewitt: That comment is not at all worthy of the right hon. Gentleman. It is a bit much for him to allege a lack of funding for the training and employment of
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doctors when the Government of whom he was a part starved the NHS of funds for nearly two decades and when we are training and employing more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals than the NHS has ever had before.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): When I saw the leader of Stafford’s junior doctors last week, she said that there was broad support for the standardisation that this system brings, and for it being an online system. Sadly, however, she also told me of the all too many instances of great distress being caused by the system. These included stories of people having their choices, and their family ties and personal circumstances, ignored, and of people who felt so disillusioned that they did not even believe that their applications had been properly read before a decision was made. Should not such situations be ironed out of the system? Should not the Secretary of State give an assurance that, in the second round and beyond, there will be greater respect for the individual circumstances of every applicant?

Ms Hewitt: The cases to which my hon. Friend refers are exactly what led us to establish the review group and to change the process for this year’s recruitment and training programmes. A critical aspect of the way in which we are now moving forward is that every applicant will be guaranteed an interview for their first preference post. I have no doubt that, when applicants decide their preferences, they take into account the location of the various posts available as well as the specialty within which the post is offered. Similarly, when the service makes decisions on job offers, they will be matched—as far as possible—to the first preferences that have been indicated by all junior doctor applicants.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Remedy UK and Mums 4 Medics have done valiant work to try to bring together the concerns of doctors in training and their seniors. Will the Secretary of State, either now or very shortly, announce the e-mail address to which people can send their concerns, including the possibility—or, in some cases, the certainty—that some doctors have had their answers dissociated from their own application and were considered on the basis of answers given by other people? That is one of the real worries that has not yet had the attention that it deserves. Doctors should be judged on their own applications and CVs, not on those of others.

Ms Hewitt: Various allegations about applications being wiped from the system have been investigated and found not to be true. For instance, the allegation that 1,300 or 1,500 applications had been lost turned out to refer to the number of applications from people who were ineligible for training programmes; applications from eligible applicants had not been lost from the system. I have not heard any accounts of people who believe that their details have been lost from their application and someone else’s details substituted. If the hon. Gentleman gives me the details of those cases, I will ensure that they are properly investigated.

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Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Last autumn, I wrote to the Secretary of State expressing concerns about this year’s implementation. The reply from the then Health Minister, Lord Warner, indicated that my concerns were misplaced, so several weeks ago I wrote back to the Secretary of State’s ministerial team pointing out that the implementation was not going well, to say the least, and asking whether anyone responsible had been disciplined as a consequence. I have not received a reply to that question.

I do not wish to know names. I do not wish to hear that the Department does not believe in a blame culture, because that would be avoiding responsibility. I do not wish to hear that it is time to move on. What I would like to know from the Secretary of State is whether any disciplinary proceedings are in train or concluded against anyone whatsoever for these problems; if so, how many; and if not, why not.

Ms Hewitt: As I said earlier, once the problems became apparent our absolute focus was on sorting them out. That has been and remains the priority. But as I also said earlier, of course there are lessons that we need to learn from what has gone wrong this year, and that will be a matter for the independent review group. As far as I am aware, no disciplinary or performance management steps are being taken in the Department, but no doubt that can be considered as appropriate.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): As one who is currently undergoing treatment in the NHS, I pay tribute to the medical care that I have received. However, I also wish to convey the anger that a number of junior doctors whom I have seen when I have been in hospital—not just my constituents—have expressed to me about the way in which the whole debacle has arisen, and the fact that so many of them are now considering taking their careers abroad.

The Secretary of State’s earlier answer to a question about possible unemployment was slightly disingenuous. It may be true that nearly all those involved are currently employed in the NHS, but if they cannot see their careers advancing in the NHS, they will take their valuable skills abroad—skills that we have paid to give them.

There are now two groups of people: those who have already been interviewed for their first choice and those whose applications for interviews for their first choice were originally rejected, and who will quite rightly be given them after the Secretary of State’s review. There is concern in both groups about whether the interviews will take place on an equal basis. Can the Secretary of State assure us that those who were originally refused interviews and who will be given them now will be interviewed on exactly the same basis, and against the same criteria, as those who were interviewed on the first occasion?

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