The Royal College of Physicians, which oversees recruitment, apologised for the “human error” and was working urgently to restart the process. The doctors’ union, the British Medical Association, said it was “appalled”.
The junior doctors were alerted to the error just before 5pm on the Friday of the recent bank holiday weekend. Fellow doctors said juniors were in tears upon hearing the news.
Many were set to uproot their families to take up the job offers, selling homes, putting offers down on houses, moving children to new schools and partners resigning from jobs to find new ones.
Rupert Simpson,29, was delighted to be offered a job in London – “I thought everything was perfect for us”. When he heard the news he said he was in “total limbo” after the withdrawal of his job offer to work in cardiology in London.
“I’m getting married next month, and my fiancée lives and works in London – it would be very difficult for us if I don’t receive another offer in London,” he said.
“For years I’ve been moving from contract to contract as a junior doctor, so the idea of having a stable job for five years was amazing.
“It’s hugely annoying and upsetting to have the carpet swept out from under us after someone made a spreadsheet error.”
A nationally co-ordinated system, known as ST3 Recruitment, is used for recruiting doctors across England, Scotland and Wales into a broad range of specialities. Last month, after attending interviews, up to 1,500 junior doctors entering their third year of specialist training received job offers in 24 different medical fields.
Each candidate was given a score which determined how likely they were to get their choice of hospital and specialty.
On Thursday, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) discovered a significant number of candidates were credited with the wrong score, because of an error transferring data from one computer programme to another – and may therefore have received an incorrect job offer.
On Friday, the RCP wrote to all those who had offers to say it was being rescinded.
“We are deeply sorry that it has been necessary to rerun the ST3 offer process due to a mistake in this round of processing,” the letter from the RCP said.
“We have taken this approach to be fair to all candidates which can only be achieved with the real scores used.”
In an updated statement, the RCP said it was working hard, including over the last 2 weekends, to restart the recruitment process and first offers will be issued today, Monday 14 May.
It acknowledged the “bad timing” of the announcement but said “we decided that it would be even worse to keep the information to ourselves for three days” and wanted to be “as transparent as early as possible”.
Speaking on behalf of the junior doctors, the BMA issued a statement saying: “We cannot express how unacceptable we find this situation.”
It said it had caused extreme anxiety for trainees and lamented “the impact – both emotionally and financially – it is having on junior doctors across the UK”.
Chairs Chaand Nagpaul and Jeeves Wijesuriya said they had spoken at length with Professor Jane Dacre, president of the Royal College of Physicians, “to articulate the strength of feeling”.
“We have heard from trainees who have, after receiving these job offers, put down deposits on homes, arranged moves or whose families had adjusted their plans,” they said.
“We have conveyed our expectation that college will support and compensate these trainees for any inconvenience.”
The BMA said it would take legal advice regarding a possible breach of contract, and compensation.
Liver doctor Ben Hudson said juniors were “in tears” while the RCP was “carelessly playing with people’s futures”.
“We appreciate what a worrying time this is for you and will provide as much information as we can, when we can, so you know what is happening,” the RCP stated in a letter sent out on Friday.
The RCP added that those doctors who had accepted offers – and made significant plans and commitments based on those offers – would be treated on a case-by-case basis.
“We set the highest standards for our work and expect to be held to them. We have not met them here and are truly sorry,” it said.
“We will learn from our mistake and make any changes necessary to fix it.”
The Department of Health said it was monitoring the matter closely and was satisfied there would be no impact on patient safety as the jobs were not due to begin until August.
Recruiters love this COMPLETE set of Accredited Recruitment & HR Training – View Training Brochure