The British Medical Association has taken its campaign against the government’s failed Medical Training Application Service a step further, by calling for a full independent investigation into the public costs of the fiasco.

The Association’s Junior Doctor’s Committee has penned its MTAS cost concerns in a letter to the National Audit Office. It claims that, “in addition to the £1.9 million paid to an IT company to set up an online recruitment system that repeatedly failed, there are likely to have been ‘more hidden costs to the tax payer’ such as the continuing costs of using MTAS to collect data, and the extra interviews that had to be arranged.”

MTAS - part of the Modernising Medical Careers framework - is an electronic recruitment and selection tool designed to match junior doctors to new specialist posts and cut the amount of time it takes to reach consultant level.

But cracks in the new system soon appeared following its launch this year. Junior doctors felt it was unfair that those applying to start specialist training were up against applicants further down the line under the previous recruitment system. Furthermore, there was substantial concern over the way MTAS was set up, with complaints over the wording on application forms, the lack of a function to include a CV, and even potential breaches in security, amongst other things.

As the row over the scheme snowballed, even prompting a protest march by junior doctors in Whitehall earlier this year, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt announced in May that MTAS would no longer be used for selection, but that the results of the first round of selection would still be valid.

Legacy remains

But although MTAS has been scrapped, its legacy still remains. “We know that thousands of doctors have had their careers messed up, that many of those who found posts still haven’t been paid properly, and that others are going to be out of post next month,” said Dr Andrew Rowland, vice chairman of the BMA Junior Doctors Committee.

“What we don’t yet know is how much public money has been wasted on this failed experiment. The £1.9 million paid to the company that set up the failed MTAS IT system is the tip of the iceberg. In some ways, we’ll never know the real impact this disaster has had, because we’ll never know how many doctors have been prevented from reaching their full potential, or how many patients had their care delayed.”

According to the BMA, which has today published its own set of figures relating to MTAS’ public bill, it costs £265,000 to train a doctor up to the point where they can apply for specialty training, and more than half of junior doctors have considered leaving the country this year, highlighting the current climate of uncertainty in the profession.