Up to 1,500 junior doctors who were offered posts as registrars have had their job offers withdrawn, following a mistake in the recruitment process.
The Royal College of Physicians, which oversaw the recruitment, apologised, blaming human error. It said the process would have to be re-run.
In a statement, the British Medical Association said it was “appalled”.
“We cannot express how unacceptable we find this situation,” adding: “This has caused extreme anxiety for trainees.”
The junior doctors were alerted to the error just before 17:00 BST on Friday, at the start of the bank holiday weekend. Fellow doctors described juniors as being in tears.
Many were set to uproot their families to take up the job offers, selling homes, putting offers down on houses, moving children to new schools and partners resigning from jobs to find new ones.
Rupert Simpson, 29, said he was in “total limbo” after the withdrawal of his job offer to work in cardiology in London.
“I’m getting married next month, and my fiancée lives and works in London – it would be very difficult for us if I don’t receive another offer in London,” he said.
“It’s hugely annoying and upsetting to have the carpet swept out from under us after someone made a spreadsheet error.”
ST3 Recruitment is a nationally co-ordinated system for recruiting doctors across England, Scotland and Wales into a broad range of specialities.
Last month, after attending interviews, up to 1,500 junior doctors received job offers in 24 different medical fields.
Each candidate was given a score which determined how likely they were to get their choice of hospital and specialty.
Last week, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) discovered a significant number of candidates were credited with the wrong score, because of an error transferring data from one computer programme to another – and may therefore have received an incorrect job offer.
On Friday, the RCP wrote to all those who had offers, advising them that the offer was being rescinded.
“We are deeply sorry that it has been necessary to rerun the ST3 offer process due to a mistake in this round of processing,” states the letter from the RCP.
“We have taken this approach to be fair to all candidates which can only be achieved with the real scores used.”
George Hills from Coventry: Stress levels are very high
I was offered my first choice training job in infectious diseases and microbiology, and as a result have taken out a loan to carry out work on my house, knowing I would not have to move home and having job security for five years.
As well as this, I have turned down job offers for other positions.
I am now in a much worse position than I was a month ago.
I have also had to arrange childcare for my eight-month-old daughter in a suitable location.
My wife is going back to work after maternity leave in August as well and is yet to know what hours she will be working.
Needless to say stress levels in our household are very high.
The timing couldn’t have been worse as we were told the news on Friday afternoon before a bank holiday weekend.
Speaking on behalf of the junior doctors, the BMA issued a statement, lamenting “the impact – both emotionally and financially – it is having on junior doctors across the UK”.
Chairs Chaand Nagpaul and Jeeves Wijesuriya said they had spoken at length with Professor Jane Dacre, president of the Royal College of Physicians, “to articulate the strength of feeling”.
“We have heard from trainees who have, after receiving these job offers, put down deposits on homes, arranged moves or whose families had adjusted their plans,” they said.
“We have conveyed our expectation that college will support and compensate these trainees for any inconvenience.”
Liver doctor Ben Hudson said juniors were “in tears” while the RCP was “carelessly playing with people’s futures”.
@iidabee tweeted to say she and her junior doctor spouse had been viewing houses that week thinking they would “finally get some stability in our lives”.
The statement added that the BMA would be taking legal advice regarding possible breach of contract, and compensation.
The RCP said the error was discovered on Thursday and the college had worked as quickly as they could to identify the nature and extent of the problem.
The offer process is scheduled to begin again on 14 May.
“We appreciate what a worrying time this is for you and will provide as much information as we can, when we can, so you know what is happening,” the RCP stated in a letter sent out on Friday.
The RCP added that those doctors who had accepted offers – and made significant plans and commitments based on those offers – would be treated on a case-by-case basis.
“We set the highest standards for our work and expect to be held to them. We have not met them here and are truly sorry,” it said.
“We will learn from our mistake and make any changes necessary to fix it.”
The Department of Health said it was monitoring the matter closely and was satisfied there would be no impact on patient safety as the jobs were not due to begin until August.
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