James Johnson has resigned from his post as chairman of the British Medical Association, as the debate over the controversial job selection process for junior doctors intensified.

The BMA said that its members had lost confidence in Johnson, after a letter he penned with Dame Carol Black, Chairman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, to the The Times (May 17) over the Government’s “mishandling” of the Medical Training Application Service “failed to reflect the anger being currently expressed by members of the Association, particularly junior doctors.”

Johnson, who was not available for comment, will step down from his post on Thursday, after four years of service.

The trouble with MTAS

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. According to media reports, 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 last week (May 15) that MTAS would no longer be used to match candidates to training posts in further rounds of recruitment, but that the results of the first round of selection would still be valid.

The move was welcomed by the BMA, who’s vice chairman of the junior doctor’s committee said that the Department of Health “has at last seen sense and effectively abandoned the unfair, discredited and shambolic MTAS system.” He went on to stress: “The Health Secretary is wrong to say that there are 23,000 training posts in the UK. Thirty thousand doctors have applied for around 18,500 post...Competition is intense and, as a matter of urgency, the government needs to guarantee that no doctor will be forced out of training as a result of workforce planning failures.”

A court battle

But the story doesn’t end there. Doctors’ pressure group Remedy UK, which says it has “lost complete confidence in the implementation of training reform,” has taken the government to court over the legality of MTAS.

It claims that the system is “conspicuously unfair and that the process overall may be interpreted as an abuse of power.” And a spokesman for Remedy UK told PharmaTimes UK News that the group is unsatisfied “the results of what was proved to be an unfair system are still being used.”

He explained Remedy UK is calling for “all current jobs to be converted into temporary training posts so there is another chance to apply next year, when another system is in place,” pointing out that each training post lasts around seven years so “people’s whole careers are depending on this.”

But Remedy UK was actually opposed in court by the BMA, which stressed that, although MTAS was a “complete disaster,” the modified system should continue “in the interest of doctors and patients.”

A verdict is expected May 23.