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Friday 28th October 2016

The MTAS debacle

9th May 2008

The Economist looks back at the failed Medical Training Application Service (MTAS) in the light of the inquest carried out in May 2008.


The "fiasco" that occurred in 2007 when the Department of Health attempted to set up a new application system for junior doctors was unparalleled.

On May 8 2008, an inquest was published by a group of MPs. Their report serves as "a cautionary tale" to the current government and the schemes to revamp the NHS.

MTAS was designed as an internet site where doctors who had recently obtained their qualifications were meant to submit their applications.

Although it went live in January 2007, it was scrapped by April. The site was plagued by "technical hitches, security breaches, legal challenges, demonstrations by junior doctors, emergency ministerial statements and high-profile resignations".

The report called it “the biggest crisis within the medical profession in a generation�.

The problems with the MTAS system were explored in the MP's report. One of the system's major failings was the standardised web-based application form.

The scoring system used in the application placed "little" importance on key details, including qualifications and experience.

Applicants were chosen because of their 150-word pieces on their leadership qualities and communication. As a consequence, the MTAS applications became, according to the report, “little more than a creative-writing exercise�.

The decision to impose one start date on August 1 ensured that hospitals were deluged with junior doctors. Other problems included poor project management and security compromises.

The idea that applications from overseas candidates should be restricted made the situation worse. A legal case meant that the government's decision to offer overseas candidates places only if no resident candidates applied was overturned.

This meant more than 10,000 overseas doctors submitted application using MTAS. The pressure on the system turned it into a disorganised competition.

Although the system may have been scrapped, the problems associated with technology and the health service are still evident. The scheme which wants to transfer every UK patients' details onto one database is "behind schedule and over budget".

Lord Darzi's review of the health service could suggest a complete "reorganisation" of the NHS. If this is the case, more "disturbing autopsy reports" could arise in the future.

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