Royal College considers no confidence move after Excel recruitment debacle

Mangled spreadsheets mean government was asleep on the job and should be held to account

The Royal College of Anaesthetists is to consider whether it has confidence in the UK National Health Service's recruitment process, following revelations that it made serious mistakes in selecting candidates owing to inappropriate and poorly managed use of Microsoft Excel.

Last week The Register exclusively revealed that the body responsible for recruitment – the Anaesthetic National Recruitment Office (ANRO) – told all candidates for positions in Wales they were "unappointable" despite some of them achieving the highest interview scores.

A subsequent Significant Incident Review showed how seven differently formatted spreadsheets were combined into one using manual processes. An error meant "rank" was confused with the interview score, and the best candidate got a score of one. Since there were only 24 candidates, all were considered below the threshold interview score to be considered appointable.

In an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Royal College of Anaesthetists this week, the body responsible for training and accreditation for UK doctors in the specialism voted to consider if there is evidence that the doctors at ANRO acted according to the guidelines of the General Medical Council (GMC) when it comes to their management responsibilities. It also voted to consider whether it has confidence in ANRO. An overwhelming majority carried the motion.

ANRO only disclosed the outcome of its investigation following a Freedom of Information request from Richards Marks, a former consultant anesthetist in the NHS and former vice president of the Royal College.

Proposing the motion at this week's meeting, Dr Marks said: "I'm no expert on HR software, but I do know that manually copying and pasting from seven different Excel sheets, all laid out in different ways, is bound to go wrong one day. So who set up the system? Who set up the QA processes and the staff training?"

The Royal College voted to consider whether HR records were not kept clearly and accurately, and whether adequate auditing and benchmarking systems were in place. The General Medical Council (GMC) registers doctors in the UK and can strike them off if they do not meet its standards.

"The GMC has a whole booklet on leadership and management, covering what it terms 'doctors with extra responsibilities.' And as you would expect, it mentions things like ensuring HR records are kept accurately, ensuring audit and benchmarking processes are in place, and that delegation and supervision are appropriate," Dr Marks told the meeting.

The final part of the motion was designed to hold ANRO's senior management to account for the debacle. "Not the junior tasked with manually copying and pasting from sheet to sheet: we don't need more copy and pasters. We need senior management that know what they're doing, who realize that this is not, and never was, the way to run an HR system," he said.

The Register has contacted NHS England to give it the opportunity to respond. The health service quango took ANRO under its wing via the merger of Health Education England. ®

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