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Angry junior doctors called for the resignation of the health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, and the minister of state for quality in the health department, Lord Hunt, after what the BMA's chairman described as a “difficult” meeting of the association's Junior Doctors Committee in London on Saturday.
Delegates were so angry and frustrated that they were turning on each other, James Johnson told the audience at a breakfast briefing on Monday at the health charity the King's Fund, which was attended by the prime minister.
But the BMA leaders managed to fend off a vote of no confidence at the Saturday meeting. Instead the anger was turned on government ministers, who, said the committee's deputy chairman, Tom Dolphin, had been warned of the pending disaster over the medical training application service (MTAS).
Dr Dolphin, who proposed the motion calling for the two ministers' resignation, said it was important that the ministers accepted responsibility for the situation that had developed.
“The government was warned,” he said. “They need to accept responsibility and to resign.”
The more than 200 delegates at the meeting mandated their representatives to continue to attend talks with the MTAS review group, led by Neil Douglas, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. They also agreed that the chairwoman of the Junior Doctors Committee, Jo Hilborne, should argue for all doctors throughout the UK to be interviewed for each of their four chosen posts. This would ensure that candidates in England were treated the same as those in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
They also want all training under the Modernising Medical Careers (MMC) scheme to be postponed for a year until the MTAS problem was sorted out. And they say that the National Audit Office should investigate the waste of money that has resulted from the debacle.
But Mrs Hewitt remained resolute while speaking about MTAS at the King's Fund briefing. “It shouldn't have happened, and we are sorting it out,” she said. “We will work through these problems in order that the recruitment system is fair to junior doctors but gives the NHS the right people in training and non-training posts.”
She later insisted that there was widespread support for MMC and that the MTAS problems would not affect it.
Last week there was an outcry after it was revealed that applicants' personal details had been open for all to read on the MTAS website because the particular page was not protected by a password. Anyone who knew the website's address could read all the details.
The Modernising Medical Careers team was forced to close the site temporarily while security checks were done. Although it was due to be back on line by Monday 30 April, when the BMJ went to press it was still unavailable.
Meanwhile the MMC spokesperson has confirmed that there are 5943 medical graduates currently in foundation year 2 positions who will be applying for their first year of specialist training starting this August. The vast majority of these are likely to get a post, she said.
For up to date news on MTAS go to http://blogs.bmj.com/category/comment/mtas/.