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The NHS has published a consultation document on the use of a national computer system to manage recruitment of junior doctors, in a bid to avoid a repeat of this year's debacle.

The computerised Medical Training Application Scheme (Mtas) was aimed at modernising the process for junior doctors to apply for training, but technical problems and security breaches meant that many of the best applicants did not get an interview.

In an attempt to avoid a repeat of this year's recruitment problems, the NHS Modernising Medical Careers (MMC) programme board has published the consultation document on how it can improve processes for next year.

The issue of whether applications should be managed using a national computer portal followed by local handling, or by entirely local processing, is described by the MMC board as "possibly the most contentious issue in the decisions to improve recruitment in 2008".

It says the system did not crash but it was very slow near the closing date for applications, causing many applicants difficulties in completing and submitting their forms. Two security breaches led to a decision to close the system and switch to local processes.

The board, however, claims that the same system was successfully used for GP recruitment, reducing the workload for recruiters. It also points to an independent audit, as part of the Douglas Review, which found that the system was "stable, performed acceptably and contained the necessary functionality to be fit for purpose".

In principle, says the board, a national computer portal would bring several advantages. It would assure applicants of a consistent process, provide a single place for applicants to make applications, allow national monitoring and data analysis to manage improvements and influence future process design, provide an audit trail and reduce administrative burdens.

The board concedes there is currently a lack of confidence among junior doctors and consultants. There is also a risk that an acceptable, user friendly system for 2008 will not be ready in the short timescale.

Policy decisions for 2008, for recommendation to ministers, need to be made at the board's meeting on 1 October to allow sufficient time to design and implement a system before recruitment starts in early January 2008.

The deadline for responses to the proposals is 25 September 2007.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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