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Foundation programme error was ‘second in a week’

The body responsible for the error that may lead to medical students losing their training positions had committed a similar error last week, which it reassured the BMA was an ‘isolated incident’, it has been revealed.

The chair of the BMA’s Junior Doctor Committee Dr Ben Molyneux and co-chairs of the Medical Students Committee Alice Rutter and William Seligman revealed that the error in the computerised marking of SJT papers was the second in a week to affect the process.

The UK Foundation Programme Office told the BMA last week that there had been errors in the machine-marking system, which had led to incorrect scoring and the potential for applicants to be rejected from the foundation programme entirely. It also reassured the BMA that this was an ‘isolated incident’ that would not affect places on the foundation programme. However, it announced today that there had been another error that could result in students having their foundation programme places taken away.

A letter from the BMA’s letter to the UKFPO said: ‘At the time we were assured that this was an isolated incident that had been identified early in the process, and that no students’ allocations would be affected. It is disappointing that we are now faced with a second problem of such enormous significance, and frustrating to conclude that it could have been avoided.’

It added: ‘The situation is hugely regrettable. It is unacceptable that the FP application and scoring process failed to validate adequately or check the machine-marking system to prevent errors like this occurring.’

The letter also said that the way that the UKFPO had contacted students was ‘disappointing’ as the lack of detail and timing left applicants with ‘many unanswered questions’ and a ‘huge amount of anxiety’.

The BMA called for a hotline for applicants’ queries, a clear timetable for the next steps, assurance that students would not suffer financially after being given places at a foundation school and a review of the process to ensure these errors are not repeated.

The UKFPO has not yet confirmed whether the computer algorithm which matches applicants to foundation schools will need to be re-run, meaning allocations may change as a result of the marking errors.

Miss Rutter said: ‘This is a completely unacceptable situation, especially as it appears that the UKFPO had early indications of problems with the application system yet decided not to halt the process of allocating students to their first job. It is important that the UKFPO gets a grip on this situation quickly.

Dr Molyneux said: ‘It is regrettable that these errors have occurred and the UKFPO must find a fair and appropriate solution to ensure that these students are able to take up their posts in the hospitals. Junior doctors must have confidence that the application process is fit for purpose.’