MMC head resigns

The national director of Modernising Medical Careers, Professor Alan Crockard, has resigned over the MTAS debacle.

He sent a letter last night to the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, saying he did not feel he could stay and watch what was happening to junior doctors, who seem to have been forgotten in the whole process.

A spokesperson from MMC said Professor Crockard was very sorry that it had come to this. “He stongly believes in medical education and the future of junior doctors. He felt they were going to be potentially disadvantaged.

“He just became despondent that his principles were not being adhered to,” said the spokesperson. “He just didn’t feel it was going the right way.”

In a formal statement issued late on Friday Professor Crockard said:

“I can confirm that I have resigned from my position as National Director for Modernising Medical Careers with immediate effect.

“I care passionately about medical education and training.  In 2003, I moved from my position as Director of Education at the Royal College of Surgeons to join the MMC team.  At the college, we developed a competency based curriculum.  When I joined MMC, we used the same principles to develop a curriculum for a new two-year training programme called the Foundation Programme which was launched in 2005. 

“It is now widely considered successful and fit for purpose.  In addition the doctors completing the Foundation Programme this year seem as if they will match well into the new specialty training programmes. 

“The principles of MMC are laudable and I stand by them. More patients should be treated by trained doctors, rather than doctors in training. We should ensure our doctors are trained to explicit standards of competence and that they have a clear, transparent career structure to follow.

“The recruitment of doctors into these new training programmes is separate to the development of the educational standards that MMC has been working to deliver. This recruitment process, through the MTAS system, undeniably needs to be reviewed. This process was developed outside my influence.

“Moving to the last few weeks, I have become increasingly concerned about the well intentioned attempts to keep the recruitment and selection process running.  I accept that in many areas and in many specialties, this round of recruitment and selection has been acceptable.  But the overriding message coming back from the profession is that it has lost confidence in the current recruitment system.

“In the interest of the most important people in the whole process, the junior doctors, this must urgently be addressed.

Modernising Medical Careers  is a Department of Health agency charged with improving medical education for the benefit of patients and doctors alike. Its brief was to reform postgraduate medical training.

But MTAS, the computerised application system which has caused all the problems for junior doctors applying for posts starting this August, was not in the hands of the MMC. Instead the project was run by a separate Department of Health agency. Professor Crockard had no control over it.

The MTAS review group, chaired by Professor Neil Douglas, and which met this morning, expressed its regret at Professor Crockard’s decision, said the spokesperson.

As yet it is unclear what the ramifications of Professor Crockard’s resignation will be. Statements are due this afternoon from the Chief Medical Officer in Wales and the Director of NHS Education for Scotland. If his decision triggers other academics to pull out of MTAS, the system could collapse, though it seems unlikely the government would let that happen at this stage. BMJ will bring the latest news as soon as we get it.

Meanwhile, there was an ironic twist for review group chair Professor Douglas, who  is president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. 

The council of his Royal College has said it believes MTAS has failed doctors and wants candidates appointed on the basis of interviews supported by CVs. It encouraged consultants to continue with the interview process but wants to see a review of the new system.

The statement went out in the name of the council’s vice president, Professor Peter Brunt, rather than that of Professor Douglas.

Dr Mike Jones, Dean of the College, would not comment on Professor Crockard’s resignation. He would only say that the College intended to continue with the appointment process.

“We have to make sure junior doctors are appointed,” he said. “We are being guided by the review group.”