Exclusive: Admin error leaves GP trainees struggling to apply for posts

Problems filling GP training posts could continue into 2015 amid administrative confusion that may have cost young doctors the chance to apply, GP magazine can reveal.

Dr Kate Willis: NHS could have lost future GP (Photo: Dr Benedicte Iuel)

Candidates have reported issues in applying for 2015 trainee posts, after the General Practice National Recruitment Office (GPNRO) claimed their competency documents could not be used to support their application, despite its own guidance to the contrary.

The complications come at a time when chronic shortages of GPs are rife across the country. GP magazine reported earlier this year that a third of practices have at least one GP post vacant.

Meanwhile, almost 400 trainee posts remain empty as 2014 comes to a close, despite an all-out 'desperate' approach to boost numbers.

But a GPNRO admin blunder saw prospective GP trainees who had completed their F2 year in 2012 informed by email that their Foundation Achievement of Competence Document (FACD) 5.2 paperwork was out of date, and could not be used in applications for GP trainee posts. The emails said that guidance on the GPNRO's own website to the contrary was ‘incorrect’.

Health Education England (HEE), which runs the GPNRO, was forced to climb down after GP highlighted the issue.

Rethink over applications

It has now decreed that applicants will be eligible to use their FACD as evidence if it was signed off in ‘2012 or beyond’.

‘Frustrated’ applicants said they felt ‘messed around’ by the process, and said the ordeal had left them disillusioned about the idea of seeking a general practice career in the UK.

The Specialty Recruitment Applicant Handbook states that anyone who has completed a UK Foundation Programme ‘within the last 3 years (since 1st August 2012)’ is able to use the FACD form as proof by ‘attaching a scanned copy’ to their application.

But the GPNRO email, sent only after candidates attempted to apply for a post, completely contradicted this.

It read: ‘This guidance is INCORRECT and you can only use an FACD form as proof of foundation if it has been signed off from July/August 2013.’

Five-day deadline

The GPNRO initially imposed strict five-day deadlines to resubmit applications on any trainee who had attempted to apply as per the handbook’s guidance.

They were told to submit an additional 11-page supportive document within this timeframe, which could only be completed by a consultant, or face missing the chance to secure a post.

A HEE spokeswoman said the problems had arisen due to ‘inconsistencies with the interpretation of the rule of what counts as three years’ within ranks. 

She added: ‘It has now been agreed that applicants will be eligible to use their [FACD] 5.2 instead of alternative certificate as long as the 5.2 was signed off in 2012 or beyond.’

GP career jeopardised

Dr Kate Willis, who completed her F2 year in August 2012, said the move had almost jeopardised her chance of securing a GP trainee post.

Following the completion of her F2, she worked abroad in New Zealand for two years to get more experience. She intended to start her GP trainee post in the UK in August 2015.

Now working in Denmark, the ‘incredibly frustrating’ experience left her scrabbling to contact an eligible consultant – someone she had worked with for over three months – on the other side of the world in New Zealand to fill in the form.

She feared this would not be possible, and her chances of gaining a place seemed slim.

Speaking before HEE dropped its call for applications to be resubmitted, she said: ‘The fact is that they're just messing us around. It’s totally crazy given that they're already in significant trouble trying to find trainees. Five days to do that is completely unrealistic.

‘They changed it retrospectively without giving anyone any notice. If I couldn’t have applied for another year, I think it probably would have put me off becoming a GP in the UK.’

Even after HEE amended the restrictions, she said it failed to notify her of the changes, which are only accessible in small print on the application website.

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