Junior doctors call for action on surgical training applications

by Peter Blackburn

Health leaders have failed to listen to the concerns of junior doctors over ongoing problems with the Core Surgical Training applications process in England

Location: England
Published: Monday 15 February 2021

That is the message from disappointed junior doctors’ representatives after many trainees experienced issues with the process – including regarding the verification of self-assessments, changing scoring criteria and unclear guidance for trainees.

Representatives from the BMA’s JDC (junior doctors committee), ASiT (the Association of Surgeons in Training) and British Orthopaedic Trainees Association said the issues have resulted in a vast number of applicants having their scores downgraded in a manner which appears inconsistent and often subjective. They said the experience of trainees ‘falls short of the agreed core principles of transparency, consistency and equity’ pledged by HEE (Health Education England) and other national bodies, and have called for immediate action to remedy the issues.

Last month representatives from the JDC and senior members of ASiT met with HEE and MDRS (Medical and Dental Recruitment and Selection) to discuss the problems.

They proposed a number of actions, including that the appeals window for applicants be extended by at least one week, an urgent clarification on how consistently evidence has been counted in or out and the establishment of a short life working group to clearly define, formalise and explain the evidence requirements ahead of remarking of all contested scores.

The representatives also urged HEE to put in place a resubmission window to allow applicants to upload evidence meeting any specific requirements that were not originally stated and are upheld in the review or that was missing but already exists and for communications to all applicants informing them of the ability to appeal.

A joint statement from the JDC and ASiT said: ‘Although the appeals deadline was extended and communicated to all applicants – which we welcome – our other proposals were unfortunately rejected by HEE and MDRS due to a belief that the existing appeals process will mitigate for any issues, and that there have been no systemic issues with the process. They also wished to mimic the normal recruitment process in the virtual environment, and so rejected the idea of allowing any supplementary uploading of material to support an appeal.

‘They insisted that the information provided to applicants had been sufficiently clear, and that issues with evidence were due to the documents uploaded, not their interpretation by the panels, which they believe to have been consistent throughout the process. 

‘We feel this represents both a failure to hear trainees’ concerns and a missed opportunity to use the virtual assessment process to deliver improvements over traditional methods. We believe that self-assessment cannot be used unverified in isolation for recruitment at any stage: all applicants should have their evidence verified before long-listing cut-offs are applied to ensure a consistent and equitable process for all applicants.’

The statement continued: ‘Whilst we understand running training recruitment systems and processes are challenging in the current pandemic, more flexibility, thought and planning are needed to ensure they are delivering an equitable and transparent system for all trainees. 

‘Trainees are under considerable pressures, this year more than ever, juggling intense clinical work, personal life upheaval and the mental load of the pandemic; they should not have to contend with more uncertainty and system-driven stress.’

Any BMA member affected by these issues can contact us, so we can better understand the impact of the problems.