23 May, 07 | by BMJ
Remedy UK’s legal fight against the Department of Health over the Medical Training Application Service (MTAS) came to an end today.
The judge hearing the case ruled against Remedy UK’s call for the interviews carried out so far only to count towards temporary appointments, not substantive posts.
However, Mr Justice Goldring said medics were justified to feel angry. He described the MTAS system as a “dreadful mess”, adding that its premature introduction had had “disastrous consequences”.
Remedy UK had gone to court over MTAS which has caused so much anger among junior hospital doctors. Remedy had originally argued that the computerised system was so flawed it should have been scrapped completely. But then it argued in court that the interviews carried out so far in round 1 should only be for temporary posts.
Mr Justice Goldring said the premature introduction of the new application system had had disastrous consequences – and although the legal challenge had failed, many junior doctors had “an entirely justifiable sense of grievance”.
He added that individual medics might still have good grounds for appeal under employment law.
A spokesman for Remedy UK said the group would not be appealing the decision. “Obviously we are very disappointed,” he said. “We still feel that careers will be harmed by this situation.”
Health Minister Lord Hunt said the government would now be working to establish the best possible way forward to match doctors to posts.
“We understand the uncertainty that problems with the system has caused junior doctors and their families, and acknowledge the criticisms that the judgement contains,” he said.
“In consultation with representatives of the medical community, including junior doctors, we will continue to work to establish the best possible way forward in order to match trainee doctors to posts.
“We feel strongly that the process of making job offers should go ahead in the interests of both doctors and patients.
“We understand the uncertainty that problems with the Medical Training and Application System have caused junior doctors and their families, and acknowledge the criticisms that the judgement contains.
“We need to ensure that lessons from what has happened are learned and learned thoroughly. That is why the Secretary of State has asked Sir John Tooke to establish an independent review of the process so that the best possible mechanisms are in place for the training of our junior doctors.”
The ruling means that the first job offers, which had been held back until the outcome of the hearing, will now be sent to candidates. However, the BMA has reiterated its concern for the thousands of doctors who will not get posts.
Responding to the judgment, Dr Jo Hilborne, chairman of the BMA Junior Doctors Committee, said:
“We hope the Department of Health will not claim this as a victory when the careers of thousands of doctors remain in doubt because of government failures. The High Court is absolutely right to criticise their handling of this mess, and to point out that our concerns about it were ignored.
“The harsh fact facing us now is that there are not enough jobs. There are 12,000 doctors who will not get training posts through this system, and they must be our priority. We have demanded that the government guarantee that no doctor will be unemployed as a result of this process and called for funding for extra training posts.
“We now hope that doctors will unite to fight for these aims. The past week has been incredibly painful for the medical profession. It’s time for us to start healing the wounds and move on.”
The BMA has requested an urgent meeting with the health secretary to demand further action.
But the Royal College of Surgeons is concerned there has not as yet been confirmation of additional training places for surgeons. It says it cannot support job offers being made until agreement has been reached on the increased numbers for specific surgical specialties and an agreement on the location of those training posts.
“I believe we are close to securing a rescue package from the Department of Health which will bring competition ratios for specialist surgical training in line with previous years,” Bernard Ribeiro, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said. “This will save good surgical trainees for the NHS who would otherwise be lost. We must not jump the gun on this and put trainees in the position of having to choose a training post not knowing whether other posts would be made available. What we need now is absolute clarity for our trainees.”