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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 April 2007, 22:20 GMT 23:20 UK
Doctors call for Hewitt to resign
Protesting doctors
Doctors have protested about the application system
Junior doctors have called for Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt and Health Minister Lord Hunt to resign over "shambolic" medical training reform.

The British Medical Association's junior doctors conference called the Medical Training Application Service's problems "gross negligence".

The online job application service was suspended amid fears personal details of applicants could be accessed online.

The government says it is working hard to ensure the security of the system.

Earlier, the BMA called for Tony Blair to step in to avert more chaos over the online application system.

BMA chairman James Johnson has written to Tony Blair warning doctors' anger will grow if the government does not address the problems with MTAS "with the level of urgency they deserve".

He said the mistakes had the potential to damage patients' confidence in the proposed new database of individual health records.

The conference also criticised failures in the Modernising Medical Careers (MMC) scheme and demanded a review into the waste of public money it claims it has caused.

The delegates also raised concerns that the implementation of MMC speciality training would have "grave consequences for patient care".

The fault is with this government which has systematically ignored the people whose lives are being ruined
Jo Hilborne, BMA junior doctors committee

The issue is also mired in internal feuding. Some doctors at the conference demanded that their own leadership should resign for participating in the government review - but a motion calling for them to step down was comprehensively voted down.

Delegate Dr Andrew Smith said there was "more anger and resentment than ever before".

Despite this the BMA leadership had remained engaged in and endorsed the "fiasco that is MMC", he said.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has already apologised for the "terrible anxiety" caused to junior doctors over the scheme.

BMA junior doctors committee head Jo Hilborne told the conference that modernising medical careers should have brought an end to uncertainty for senior house officers.

'Total failure'

But instead, she said it had brought the fear of career stagnation, the danger of falling standards and loss of good doctors.

She called the application system a "desperate failure".

"The fault is with this government which has systematically ignored the people whose lives are being ruined by their ill-thought out, badly implemented policies," she said.

Conference delegates suggested the system should be scrapped and suggested two possible solutions to the MTAS problems.

They said either all candidates starting posts in 2007 must be interviewed for all their choices, or all MMC training be postponed and a return made to the old system (SHO/specialist registrars) for a year while a new application process was devised.

The MTAS computer system has previously been criticised for not allowing candidates to set out their experience, meaning the best candidates have not been selected for interview.

But it has also been attacked for having too few jobs for the number of candidates.

Under the new system, doctors should achieve consultant level in 11 years instead of 14
The online application process MTAS (Medical Training Application Service) has been heavily criticised
Doctors cited badly designed forms and poor selection methods and warned the best candidates would miss out on jobs
An independent review panel has already recommended a number of changes to MTAS

Conference delegates also passed a motion calling for the National Audit Office to investigate how much public money had been spent on the computer system.

And they sought guarantees that no junior doctor would be unemployed as a result of system failures.

The BMA estimates that 34,250 doctors are chasing 18,500 UK posts, due to start in August.

But it has warned thousands of NHS doctors could go to work abroad because of their disgust at the process.

Lord Hunt insisted it was not a resignation issue and that all the medical organisations had called for the old system to be changed because it was not working.

Earlier he told the BBC action was being taken to make the system more secure.

"We have brought in over the weekend some independent experts from outside companies. They are clawing through it to make sure it is secure and we will only open it up again when we are satisfied about that."

A junior doctor on his fears for the future

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