Lack of leadership cited as factor in junior doctor jobs fiasco

The lack of a permanent NHS workforce director could have played a part in the junior doctor jobs fiasco last year, a senior government official has admitted.

The Modernising Medical Careers (MMC) recruitment system was widely panned by critics after problems with training places and online applications. An independent inquiry found it was “rushed and poorly communicated”.

Current workforce director Clare Chapman joined in January 2006 just as the new system was rolling out and had no input into the design and implementation of the MMC system. MPs on the parliamentary health select committee questioned whether it was a “serious error” to have no permanent director during such a key phase.

In response, the Department of Health’s permanent secretary Hugh Taylor admitted the situation was “far from ideal”, but insisted it was not a factor in the shambolic situation that followed.

“The important point to make is that there was continuity of senior leadership because Nic Greenfield, who became the acting director-general for workforce planning while we waited for [Chapman] to take up her appointment, had been closely involved with the MMC project,” he said.

Also giving evidence, health secretary Alan Johnson called MMC’s collapse a “classic case of systems failure”. But he refuted suggestions from the committee that it could be compared to when social services claim a systemic failure after an at-risk child has been killed. “[The MMC situation] was a one-off and the analogy with social services is wrong,” Johnson said.

The government has now published its response to the Tooke report on MMC. Johnson said he accepted most of the recommendations in full

“Some of the more substantial recommendations, such as proposals for an independent body to oversee medical education and training, require further careful consideration,” he said. “We must not repeat old mistakes.”

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