HR departments must not underestimate the importance of smart recruitment, experts have warned, following a blunder that saw up to 1,500 junior doctors erroneously offered jobs that were subsequently withdrawn.
An error in the recruitment process overseen by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) left a swathe of doctors across the UK in limbo over the bank holiday weekend.
Up to 1,500 junior doctors in their third year of specialist training attended job interviews last month and were awarded a score determining how likely they were to get their choice of hospital and speciality, before being offered jobs.
However, on Thursday the RCP realised that an error in transferring data between computer systems had led to a significant number of candidates being credited with the wrong score and either being offered the wrong roles or being offered a job when they should not have been eligible for one.
Speaking to People Management, Michael Johnson-Ellis – managing director of specialist recruitment consultancy Healthier Recruitment – slammed the scale of the blunder as “shocking”.
“You only have to look at the processes of commercial or private organisations to realise that 1,500 misplaced job offers down to the error of an individual just wouldn’t happen, because there would be a smarter HR system that would manage these levels of offers and the sign-off process would be tracked and monitored in a smarter way,” he said.
Johnson-Ellis added that the error highlighted the need to invest in more effective permanent recruitment and outsourcing. “The NHS is already doing so much with so little – there is so much pressure on individuals to turn tasks like this around, and errors are made because teams are so stretched,” he said.
Tom Hadley, director of policy at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, added: “We face global competition for key healthcare roles, which is why hospitals need to provide good management and work conditions to attract doctors, rather than deterring them through a bad recruitment experience. This error is the last thing the NHS needs in an already desperate situation.”
Junior doctors told the BBC about taking out loans on houses and arranging moves across the country, only to be left in “total limbo” over the bank holiday weekend. In a tweet, doctor Ben Hudson accused the RCP of “carelessly playing with people’s futures”.
“Many important life plans already made on basis of spurious offers,” he wrote. “Juniors in tears – news dumped 4.45 before a bank holiday [...] Shame on you.”
Meanwhile, doctors’ union the British Medical Association (BMA) on Saturday described the situation as “emotionally and financially” unacceptable, adding that it would be seeking legal advice over the error.
“There is no hiding from the fact that many trainees will have made huge life decisions based on their original offers,” read the co-authored statement from Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, and Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya, BMA junior doctors committee chair. “We continue to demand that those who suffer financial losses as a result of this error are compensated appropriately.”
The RCP is to rerun the allocation with the correct data today, which will identify the junior doctors whose revised offers are different from their original allocations. It is anticipated that positions will be re-offered on Monday 14 May.