Unemployed doctors could opt for VSO, review group told

There has been an outcry at the news that one briefing paper to the MTAS review group suggests doctors who can’t find a job in the UK should consider working for Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) instead.

The BMA says the government’s failures in workforce planning have created this mess.

The document, apparently from NHS Employers, which represents NHS trusts, was leaked to journalists on Friday, much to the consternation of the organisation’s deputy director, Sian Thomas.

“It is disappointing that discussions being held within the review group are being leaked as there are many and wide ranging issues being considered,” she said.

Apparently the suggestion was one among many proposals for how trusts might help offer advice and support to those doctors who failed to obtain a post in this year’s training recruitment. It has been suggested that as many as 10,000 doctors could be without jobs at the end of the process, but this, says Ms Thomas, does not reflect the fact that many of those who applied for speciality training are already in staff posts.

“The 10,000 figure is based on the difference between applicants and training places,” she said. “There are many applicants from outside the NHS or working in service posts who saw this transition year, with more training programmes available, as a one off opportunity to get into NHS specialty training, which is seen worldwide as high quality and lucrative.

“Speciality training posts are always very competitive and there are always more applicants than places available,” she said.

She added that if doctors currently in staff (also known as trust) posts were successful in getting onto specialty training posts, they would create vacancies which other, less successful, candidates could apply for. These staff posts do not offer the same automatic career progression towards a consultancy post.

“There are many options open to applicants who do not secure a training place,” she said. The options put forward in the report to the MTAS review group included not only staff posts in the NHS but locum work and spending a period of time working outside the NHS — possibly working for a voluntary organisation.

“Similar discussions have also been held nationally with regard to other groups, particularly nurses and physios which resulted in the publication last week of a joint programme of work between TUs, DH and NHS Employers,” said Ms Thomas.

“Volunteering and working overseas has always been popular among NHS staff, with the relevant experience, who have a lot to give and a lot to gain from a period of working in other countries.

But the idea got short shrift from the BMA’s junior doctors’ representative, Jo Hilbourne, who is on the review group.

“It’s extremely worrying that NHS managers do not know how many posts are available for the thousands of junior doctors applying for them,” she said. “It’s even more alarming that they are preparing for medical unemployment on such a large scale.

“The government can no longer deny the seriousness of this crisis. As a matter of urgency, the Health Secretary must guarantee that no doctor in training will be denied a career in the NHS as a result of poor workforce planning.

“If our most talented doctors are forced out of training, they will head overseas or leave medicine entirely. They will lose out on their dreams of becoming consultants and GPs in the NHS. Their patients will lose out on the right to be treated by the best doctors. And taxpayers will get no return on the millions of pounds spent on medical training.

“The government’s failure to plan the NHS workforce created this mess.