Bitter pill for junior doctors

Charlotte Ingle and Tom Southorn are at a critical point in their medical careers. Having spent much of the last decade studying and honing their skills as junior doctors, both are ready to embark on the sector of training that will see them becoming specialists: oncology for Dr Ingle and orthopaedics for Mr Southorn.

Charlotte Ingle and Tom Southorn are at a critical point in their medical careers.

Having spent much of the last decade studying and honing their skills as junior doctors, both are ready to embark on the sector of training that will see them becoming specialists: oncology for Dr Ingle and orthopaedics for Mr Southorn. Yet a change in the training system looks as though it could dash their ambitions.

Neither of the doctors, who are both 29, has been short-listed for interviews for the next phase of their training under the Modernising Medical Careers initiative.

Scores of other junior doctors at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N), and thousands more across the UK, are in the same situation - their careers effectively brought to a standstill, with too many doctors competing for too few training places.

Mr Southorn said: "It's not that we disagree with the new system, but the overwhelming feeling is that it is not a fair or transparent system."

Neither has received any feedback as to why they were not shortlisted, nor guidance on how to approach the second phase of interviews next month, where there will be even fewer places available.

Most Read

They are also angry that the selection process takes little or no account of competence, experience or references.

Mr Southorn said: "The impact of this is that, if I do not secure employment by August, I will be left with two choices: either leave medicine and pursue a different career, which effectively means that the last 10 years of my life are wasted, or practise medicine abroad."

It is not only their medical careers that are being affected. With no certainty about their future, they cannot plan their personal lives because they do not know if they will get a job, or where a job might be.

Dr Ingle said: "We have all got mortgages. Some people have families to support. It is heartbreaking. We are dedicated doctors, prepared to work hard for our patients. We love our jobs, but it does not seem to mean anything."

They want to see a change in the selection process that would take into account their experience and competence.

If they do not get a job, they may be offered an NHS post but not one that would advance their training.

Nationally, it is expected that 8,000 junior doctors will be left without a training post. Those affected are in the third or fourth years of their post-graduate studies after leaving medical school, though the first group graduating from UEA's medical school this summer have been assured of jobs.

Junior doctors from the N&N have written to health secretary Patricia Hewitt demanding an immediate review of the medical recruitment process. They have been backed by senior executives, including medical director Iain Brooksby.

The Junior Doctors' Mess president at the N&N, Dr Richard Till, said: "The very real concern is that such an inadequate system that selects future registrars and consultants on nothing more than luck poses a serious risk to patient care. So many excellent candidates who have been trained at great expense by the government will readily leave the UK to continue training elsewhere."

Katharine Stanley, a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology and clinical tutor at the N&N, said there was a view that the application process for training posts was flawed, with limited information accessible to the shortlisters. This meant that shortlisting consultants could not obtain a clear picture of a candidate's potential.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "This is a competitive process, so there will be applicants who do not secure an interview in this first round." He said applicants who were not shortlisted would have a chance to apply for programmes in a second round.