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A national computerised system will not be used for matching junior doctors to specialist training posts next year, the Department of Health has confirmed.
Instead deaneries will organise their own recruitment process for posts in England in 2008, and junior doctors' start dates will be staggered, the health minister Ben Bradshaw has said. He has also announced plans to re-examine the current policy allowing medical graduates from outside Europe to apply for jobs in the United Kingdom.
Abandoning a national computerised system will leave deaneries responsible for advertising their own vacancies and issuing their own application forms (which will ask for CV type information). A maximum of three recruitment processes will take place each year, although the main intake will continue to be in August, particularly for the first year of specialty training.
“We have learned important lessons from the difficulties with this year's recruitment process and have apologised to junior doctors for any distress caused to them and their families,” said Mr Bradshaw. “We said we would listen to doctors and their representatives, and today's announcement reflects this.”
He added that any future system would be “rigorously tested and agreed with doctors, the NHS, and others involved.”
The Department of Health has also launched a consultation on how best to manage applications for foundation and specialty training programmes from medical graduates from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). The consultation ends on 22 October. One suggestion is that jobs should be filled by non-EEA applicants—including applicants with limited leave to remain in the UK, such as those on the highly skilled migrant programme—only if no suitable EEA applicant was available.
This year in England nearly 28000 trainee doctors applied for around 15500 posts. The health department says that overseas graduates outnumbered UK graduates applying for posts.
It warns that competition will be more intense in 2008 and forecasts a ratio of applicants to posts closer to 3:1. More than half of the applicants are likely to have trained outside Europe.
“Increased investment in medical training since 1997 means that the NHS no longer relies so heavily upon doctors from outside Europe,” said Mr Bradshaw. “We now have four new medical schools, and medical school places in England have increased from 3749 in 1997 to 6451 in 2007.
“It is also important to recognise that most international medical graduates who come to work or train in the NHS don't stay very long: 80% leave within four years of joining the NHS. Ultimately the NHS loses the trained GPs and consultants it needs when international medical graduates leave.
“The choice facing us and the medical profession is whether we accept that international medical graduates will displace UK medical graduates, or we decide to maximise the opportunities for UK medical graduates and the taxpayers' investment in them. Most other countries give a priority to their own medical school graduates when appointing to specialist training posts.”
The BMA says that overseas medical students currently at UK medical schools should be allowed to complete their full postgraduate training in the UK. The BMA's chairman, Hamish Meldrum, said, “The immigration status of overseas doctors during the recruitment process this year was extremely vague, creating the possibility of discrimination.
“Overseas medical students have come to the UK on the understanding that they'd be able to train and work in the NHS. They've often made personal and financial sacrifices to come here. It would be hugely unfair to deny them opportunities to work in the NHS.”
The consultation paper on international medical graduates is available at www.mmc.nhs.uk.