Select Committee on Health Written Evidence

Supplementary memorandum by the Department of Health (MMC 01A)


  Thank you for the opportunity to give evidence to your enquiry.In response to a few of your questions we offered to give you more detail in writing.

MTAS capacity

  The Invitation to Tender Documents for the MTAS IT system refers to multiple rounds of 10,000 leading to a capacity of 30,000 applicant users.The capacity ceiling was reviewed and increased to 40,000 in December 2006 (19 Dec). Methods Consulting was the supplier for this work.

  At the time we procured the MTAS service, the expectation was that recruitment to ST1, ST2 and ST3 would be carried out in separate rounds, and that a maximum of 15,000 applications would be received in each of these rounds, for a maximum of about 10,000 posts. The MTAS supplier was consulted when the decision was made at a later date to combine the recruitment rounds.

  There is a perception that problems arose with MTAS related to the capacity of the IT system: in fact there was sufficient capacity in the system. As we acknowledged in our evidence, the system did run slowly for a period of 11 hours and during this time some applicants had difficulty accessing the system. The reason the system ran slowly was not due to poor capacity planning but rather the way the load was distributed across the various computer servers. This was a technical problem that became apparent only when the system was fully loaded. The issue was fixed by Friday 2 February. We extended the deadline from 4 February to 5 February in mitigation. We very much regret the frustrations this created for some applicants, but by the deadline over 34,000 applicants had completed their applications and only 68 applicants appealed to be allowed a late entry application. Of these, 26 had substantial reasons to permit a late entry, mostly because of individual, personal circumstances.

  Relevant excerpts from the tender documents are attached at Annex A.

  There were several references in our oral evidence to WPP and 6,000 applicants. To clarify and correct any misunderstanding that may have resulted, the reference to 6,000+ applicants in the Tooke Report (p142) refers to the tender for designing the application form and selection procedure not the IT system MTAS. The reference to 6,000+ refers to the initial tender assumption relating to ST1, that there would be approximately 6,000 posts available at ST1.This tender for the selection procedure was won by Work Psychology Partnership.

MTAS contract with Methods

  When the security breaches occurred the contractor was required to undertake immediate security testing and to upgrade the security of the system to a much higher level than is generally required for an on-line recruitment service. This work was completed by the contractor at their own expense.

  The contractor also undertook a number of additional, non-security related activities at their own cost. The following are some of the actions undertaken:

    —  While the system was blocked, as instructed by the Department, the contractor undertook additional work to ensure that there was minimum disruption to the service and that deaneries were supported.

    —  The contractor also produced additional reports and substantial documentation so that all deaneries could see which applicants were scheduled to attend interview events.

    —  Once deanery access was permitted by the Department, the contractor set up a process so that deanery access was only available to trusted IP addresses that were associated to a deanery. A manual process was created that allowed the Department to approve which deanery users were authorised to use the system and to approve the users' access rights.

  The Department is not considering terminating the contract while there is an ongoing need for this service. The supplier has cooperated fully with us in making appropriate changes to the security arrangements (at their own expense) to minimise the likelihood of further security incidents. The ongoing need for the service includes the fact that the system is currently in use for applications to the 2008 Foundation Programme. Although the system will not be used for recruitment in 2008 to Specialty Training, its adaptation is an option for use in 2009 for recruitment to Specialty Training.


  The Department wrote in its evidence that one of the main issues this year was the high volume of applicants. High competition ratios, linked with four choices for applicants, meant that many would not get interviews in the first round. We said all along that Round 2 would be substantial. We also repeatedly warned that there would be high competition and that doctors should not take it for granted that they would get the interviews and offers they wanted, particularly in the popular specialties and locations.

  As early as 4 September 2006 we indicated there would be two rounds.(

  In February 2006 an article was written on the MMC website (published in June in BMJ Careers ) by Shelley Heard which spelled out that competition would be high for some specialties.

  On 18 December the results of a survey indicating applicants' interest in various specialties was published. This should have helped applicants see that some specialties would have had higher competition rates than others.

  It was made clear on numerous occasions and by different stakeholders that applicants should be aware they may not get their first choice specialty. For example a newsletter on 6 January advised:

    . . . you should keep in mind that you may not get your first choice of specialty or location and that it might not be in a run-through programme. I'd definitely advise that you have a plan b and even a plan c when you apply.

  In general terms MTAS communications were part of the wider MMC communications plan which involved Deaneries, NHS Employers and national stakeholders as well as direct MMC communication with applicants through MMC and MTAS websites.

  There was a programme of co-ordinated MMC (Foundation, Specialty, recruitment proposals) and MTAS roadshows undertaken with deaneries between May and October 2006 at which the recruitment and selection processes were discussed and critical messages such as competition were considered.

  All English deaneries were visited by the MMC team with the exception of Eastern Deanery, who instead, liaised with Sarah Thomas, Lead postgraduate Dean over the changes.

  The deaneries were asked to invite to these roadshows stakeholders who they considered had a key role to play in implementing and cascading messages around recruitment and selection changes for specialty recruitment.

  Typically, these roadshows were attended by representatives covering clinical and academic leads for specialities, recruitment personnel from Trusts and deaneries, some potential applicants (Foundation and Specialty), clinical tutors and medical staffing personnel.

  Overall, there were approximately 550-600 people briefed directly through these roadshows specifically to cascade the information and advice to potential applicants and their managers.

  As part of the roadshow programme, Deaneries were asked to nominate a key person in the deanery to undertake the role of "transition manager" who would have responsibility for co-ordinating local activity, including appropriate communications messages in their "patch".

  These roadshows covered the fact that there would be two Rounds.

  One of the difficulties in preparing applicants for the new system was the lack of any national data from the pre-MMC recruitment process. As soon as we knew the number of applicants and the competition ratios this was provided (in March).

  We accept that despite these efforts not all applicants were as aware of some critical factors about the recruitment as would have been desired. However, direct feedback from applicants during discussions about the revised arrangements for Round 1 indicated a clear understanding that there would be a substantial Round 2.

Nic Greenfield

December 2007

Annex A


  The service must be able to deal with application peaks as each recruitment round nears its closing date.
Number of website visits100,000 per day
Number of candidate users30,000
Number of employer usersless than 2,000
Number of applications per recruitment round 15,000 (maximum)
Number of posts to be filled10,000 per year
Number of national recruitment rounds per year 10 plus clearing rounds (maximum)

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