England and Wales anesthetist recruitment marred by computer errors

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Anesthetist recruitment in England and Wales has been disrupted by computer errors, bad technology choices, and flawed processes, according to a new report.

The report, which was published in July following a Freedom of Information request, reveals that a complex and confused approach to using spreadsheets led to a disaster in autumn 2021, when candidates seeking their third-level specialist training position (ST3) were wrongly told they were “unappointable.”

The interview scores for the candidates were stored in an Excel spreadsheet, but each of the seven U.K. recruitment regions created a separate spreadsheet with no standardised template, naming convention or structure. After being manually amended, all of the various scores were entered into a Master spreadsheet.

A ranking column in the Wales Region Spreadsheet had been wrongly transferred to the Master National Spreadsheet, erroneously appearing as an interview score. After their interviews, candidates were ranked 1 to 24 – with 24 actually being the total number of candidates interviewed in the region.

Even the highest possible “interview” score of 24 was much lower than candidates’ true scores, and because the candidates had been ranked in order of performance, the best candidates were deemed weakest and vice versa. As a consequence of this error, all the candidates from the Wales Region were deemed “unappointable” when all candidate scores were ranked nationally.

The report also found that poor choice of technology for organization-wide decision-making was compounded by inconsistent practice, including the erratic use of Excel’s “VLOOKUP” function.

The function was used by some members of the ANRO team to minimize the opportunity for errors in manual cut and paste. But not all the ANRO Team were using the ‘V-LOOKUP’ function, and the issue was not identified by the team and therefore not escalated to the Team Leader for further investigation.

In attempting to tell candidates about the problems with the scoring system, ANRO then found a bug in the messaging system of Oriel, the recruitment platform from vendor HiCom.

ANRO decided to honor the 10 job offers it had made by mistake and used Oriel to tell the candidates. Unfortunately, a system error in Oriel meant it then erroneously sent that communication to an additional 16 candidates. ANRO decided to honor these 16 additional offers too, and find the candidates posts.

The sources for this piece include an article in TheRegister.

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