Surgeons warn of MTAS interviews’ impact on NHS

The Royal College of Surgeons has warned that the plans to offer all applicants on round one of the MTAS application process an interview will have a detrimental knock-on effect on patient care.

Bernard Ribeiro, president of the college, said its council was “increasingly concerned” that patient care may suffer if consultants are asked to give up time in clinics and operating theatres to interview “the thousands of candidates let down by MTAS.”

He continued with a thinly veiled warning to the government that waiting list targets would potentially be at threat: “We must now have assurance from employers that consultants will be released to undertake the necessary interviewing and the Department of Health must acknowledge that this will mean cancelling clinics and other non-urgent duties at short notice. Chief Executives must be made aware that our consultants will need support to see this new appointment process through.”

Mr Ribeiro said he welcomed the decision not to short list candidates via the MTAS system, but instead to use the formal interview process. Doctors and surgeons had demonstrated that structured interviews are the only valid method for selection, he said.

“I am particularly pleased,” he added, “that the Review Group has accepted my view that the operational details of the rescue package must vary from specialty to specialty, thereby taking particular account of the specific requirements of surgery as a craft specialty.”

He said that Deaneries that had already started their interviews would have to make an assessment about the interviews that have already taken place.  

“In some cases Deaneries will be confident that they have carried out probing interviews with CVs and portfolios and can carry on; other Deaneries may not be confident that their interviews are consistent with the new guidance from the Review Group and may need to start again.  

“I understand the anguish that this may cause those candidates who have already been interviewed, but I have worked closely with our trainee organisations and feel that it is the fairest way to treat all candidates.”

Despite calls for applicants to be given four interviews, not just one, Professor Elisabeth Paice, Dean Director of the London Deanery, insisted that — given the MTAS shortlisting process had been thrown into disrepute — the only fair approach was to offer every applicant the same opportunity to have one interview.

“It would not be feasible or in the interests of patient care to offer multiple interviews to all applicants,” she said.

“Applicants who are unsuccessful in their interview will have the opportunity to enter a clearing process in Round 2, or to apply again during the course of the year as vacancies arise.”

Meanwhile Tom Dolphin, representing the BMA’s Junior Doctors’ Committee, advised those who have more than one interview lined up to press ahead with them all.

“You must go to your interviews,” he said.

He said although the competition ratios which had been published gave some kind of guideline to the most and least popular specialties, they were of only limited use.

“As soon as you open it up to competition again, they immediately become historic,” he said. “Some people may jump ship and opt for something where there is less competition which will skew the figures. It’s no way of choosing a career.”

The BMA would, he said, continue to press the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges to pull out of the talks. Strike action, though, is out of the question. Legal advisors say that junior doctors’ employment status rules it out.

At Remedy UK’s website, one stressed-out participant sums up the whole saga as a complete farce.

“ONE interview, ONE shot at a life long career in MEDICINE?!” they write. “And they will publish the ratios for each speciality which is a must of course and I hope they publish the numbers of posts available per speciality at each level, but with ONE interview! How stressful is that?!”

The current members of the review group are as follows:
Professor Neil Douglas (Chair) Vice Chair of the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges and President Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
Clare Chapman Director General of Workforce, Department of Health
Professor Alan Crockard National Director Modernising Medical Careers
Dr Paul Dimitri Chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges – Trainees Group
Professor Sir Liam Donaldson Chief Medical Officer England
Dr Jonathan Fielden Chair of the Consultant & Specialist Committee, BMA
Nic Greenfield Director of Workforce (Education, Regulation and Pay)
Professor Sheila Hollins President Royal College of Psychiatrists
Dr Judith Hulf President Royal College of Anaesthetists
Dr Tony Jewell Chief Medical Officer Wales
Professor Martin Marshall Deputy Chief Medical Officer England
Neil McKay Chief Executive East of England Strategic Health Authority
Mr Bernie Ribiero President Royal College of Surgeons of England
Dr Mike Watson Director NHS Education for Scotland
Dr Paddy Woods Senior Medical Officer N. Ireland