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ePortfolio has become ‘bureaucratic nightmare’ for GP trainees, BMA warns

Exclusive The RCGP’s revamped ePortfolio is causing a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’ for trainees and trainers with data going missing and incorrect information being shown, says the BMA.

The RCGP introduced a new system last month, but the BMA says that it has resulted in trainees battling disruption and ‘box-ticking’ rather than gaining valuable training experience.

The reported problems include data going missing, including trainees’ national training numbers, and trainees and trainers having to back up everything they input.

Pulse has learnt that the BMA has written to the college to express its concern, and asked for urgent clarification on when the problems will be resolved.

The college itself admitted there was some ‘short-term disruption’, but that it anticipated the problems would be fully resolved by mid-October.

The ePortfolio is meant to act as a record of the evidence collected through workplace based assessments (WPBA), and the latest version was meant to be more ‘user friendly’.

But since the new system was introduced at the beginning of August, it has been beset with problems. In a list of glitches published on the RCGP website, it says ‘a minority of trainees may not be able to locate some records. All historical records have been backed up and these will be restored in due course’.

It also found that trainees are ‘missing national training numbers [which are used to identify trainees]. Some trainees’ details are not being imported as expected from another database.’ Other problems include incorrect data being shown, correct codes being rejected and a range of minor glitches.

This is not the first time there has been controversy surrounding the implementation of a new version of the ePortfolio. In January 2011, Pulse reported repeated problems with the website, which resulted in trainees losing work and suffering delays in completing their assessments online.

The letter from the BMA, signed by Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, chair of the GP trainees subcommittee, said all new systems had ‘teething problems’ but added that the ‘extent of the disruption was considerable’ and questioned the testing of the system.

It added: ‘Although the RCGP has been providing updates to trainees and trainers periodically, this has not served to reassure those affected sufficiently. It may help to alleviate trainees’ concerns if the RCGP were to make a detailed public statement, not only updating trainees on progress, but providing some idea of the potential knock-on effects of the ePortfolio problems and how they will be managed. I think this communication is now a matter of urgency.’

Dr Kasaraneni told Pulse: ‘What is meant to be an electronic record of training is fast turning into a bureaucratic nightmare with more and more boxes that need ticking on an electronic platform that doesn’t work. Trainees are having to spend more time on the new version compared to the old one to work around these problems.’

He added: ‘We have to spend time redoing the same things rather than learning meaningful things about general practice.’

Dr Tom Black, chair of the Northern Ireland GPC, said the bureaucracy involved had an ‘opportunity cost’, taking trainers and trainees away from real training.

He said: ‘Every time they change it, it becomes more bureaucratic, with more layers, more boxes to tick and more difficult to navigate around. It pretends to be training, but it is a bureaucratic nightmare.’

Dr Kamal Sidhu, a GP trainer in County Durham, said that the update needed to be ‘better planned’. He said: ‘We had trainees complaining of losing saved data and this caused a lot of inconvenience, but on a positive note, we were given regular updates on these issues through our training schemes.’

A statement from the RCGP said the problems were expected from a completely new system that had involved the migration of millions of items of information.

She said: ‘With projects of this scale, there is inevitably some risk of short term disruption to users but we share the concerns of trainees and trainers who have been affected and are doing all we can to sort out the final outstanding issues.

She added that it anticipated the problems would be fully resolved by mid-October. ‘[We] hope that the overall benefits of the new system will soon outweigh any current disruption. We thank our trainees and trainers for their patience and for bearing with us in the meantime.’