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UK medical body head quits over jobs row

May 21, 2007 11:00 IST

The plight of doctors in Britain, including a large number of NRIs, came to the fore again with the Chairman of the British Medical Association James Johnson resigning for failing to convey the junior doctors' anger over a botched online appointment system.

Johnson was forced from his post last night after a letter he sent to the Times daily, last week, about the Medical Training Application Service which it was felt was insufficiently sensitive to the problems being experienced by young doctors.

The BMA's treasurer David Pickergill said his colleagues had lost confidence in Johnson as he failed to convey their anger over the system for matching junior doctors to specialist posts.

But Johnson accused the government of a failure of policy and warned that the profession was on the edge.

More than 34,000 doctors, including a sizeable number of NRIs, are chasing 18,500 training posts due to start in August.

Junior doctors who took out a protest rally in March complained the system was profoundly flawed, and that many of them had been unfairly treated.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt announced last week that the MTAS system would be shelved for the second round of interviews for posts.

But MTAS has been subject to a legal challenge in the high court and a decision is expected this week.

Junior doctor pressure group Remedy UK wants all existing posts awarded under MTAS to be made temporary until a new selection process is conducted next year.

Johnson, a vascular surgeon in the north-west of England, has been chairman of the BMA for nearly four years.

He wrote a letter about MTAS with Dame Carol Black, chairman of the Academy of Medical Royal College, to the Times newspaper on May 17, rejecting a suggestion favoured by junior doctors that a first round of interviews under the MTAS be scrapped.

They said: "We agree that a better system is needed, but believe that it should be achieved through argument and negotiation, not action that could risk harming patients, the NHS or our colleagues."

Pickersgill said: "While it (the letter) reflected the association's agreed position of working towards a pragmatic solution for this year, its tone failed to reflect the anger being currently expressed by members of the association, particularly the junior doctors.

"It was felt to be insufficiently sensitive and has led to a loss of confidence in the chairman."

In a statement to Channel 4 News Johnson said that he wrote the letter to support Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, who had come under "unfair attack for failing to give leadership over the MTAS fiasco".

As a civil servant he was not in a position to defend himself, or to "apologise on behalf of the government for that amounts to a failure of policy," Johnson said.

"I wrote the letter to offer a bit of support. I did not consult others because it is not BMA policy to oppose the chief medical officer," he said. "But this is ordinary political situation. The medical profession is on the edge," he added.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said he was sorry that Johnson had to resign when the blame lay with Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

MTAS ran into serious trouble with many complaining about a lack of posts, poorly designed recruitment forms and technical failures with the online application system.

Johnson said he had intended not to seek re-election in June for a fifth and final year of office, but was leaving early because of unhappiness within the BMA.

The BMA said it would now consider the process for electing a new chairman.

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