back to article Royal College considers no confidence move after Excel recruitment debacle

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 …

  1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    None of this means "the government was asleep on the job". The government doesn't manage data transmission between different health bodies, those health bodies manage that. And, in the article itselt, nowhere does it mention anything about the government, it clearly solely identifies the responsibility with the management of the various bodies directing the data movements. "Incompetent driver drives into wall, government at fault"?

    1. Lurko

      "None of this means "the government was asleep on the job"."

      Well actually it does. ANRO are part of Health Education England, and were an executive body within the Department of Health & Social Care, based out of the government hub in Birmingham. In the timescale of both clangers (see post below), HEE were being merged with NHSE (also an executive body within the Department of Health & Social Care) as part of the stupid, misguided changes instigated by that disgusting little twerp Hancock, so over the past two years staff have been operating with poor morale, no clarity on their future*, and leadership and management structures that are as clear as mud. Those changes were made specifically so that Hancock and his sub-par successors could have more direct control over the NHS in totality, so perhaps "asleep" is not the right term, but in terms of ultimate accountability yes, it is the miserable, bumbling, lying government we currently have.

      * The NHSE reorganisation was announced and accompanied by statements of intent to get rid of 10k+ employees. The whole reorganisation has been a mismanaged, barely legal screwup, and many staff have been heavily paid off (usually to their great satisfaction), only to hear that the team they've left is having to re-recruit because it turned out that the work did in fact need doing.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        The NHSE reorganisation was announced and accompanied by statements of intent to get rid of 10k+ employees. The whole reorganisation has been a mismanaged, barely legal screwup, and many staff have been heavily paid off (usually to their great satisfaction), only to hear that the team they've left is having to re-recruit because it turned out that the work did in fact need doing

        The Department of Health have form for it - 20 (ish) years ago I worked for a company that had a product used in the NHS. We had a really good rapport with a DoH project manager who ensured that the functionality matched what the target users wanted - the system had fairly high and positive reviews from the users.

        The some bumblinh Health minister stodd up in Parliament to say that they were cutting the DoH headcount by moving a large chunk of people out to a new organisation called NHS Employers (which, being a Government body, was still paid for by the Government, but, importantly for the minister, not out of the health budget).

        Our project manager was one of the ones shafted shifted. And, in doing so, lost access to the budget that she formerly had. She could 'recommend' but not actually committ to anything.

        Then the DoH realised that, actually, they needed people doing what those staff had been doing and, quietly, hired more people in order to cover the functions that had, allegedly been outsourced to NHSE.

        We lost that contract shortly after - the new project manager at the Doh put together a committee to evaluate it that, coincidentally, didn't include us but did include one of the big health system outsourcers. Who, mysteriously, got access to our source code which DoH had required us to put into escrow in case our company went under.

        Said committee concluded that they would be better off using the bloated monolith code that the big outsourcer was trying to push - with the new module that looked suspiciously like our code. Said system was *loathed* by all the staff that used it because our clean, simple interface had been munged to fit into their interface look and feel and took 4 mouse clicks to do what could have been done in one mouse click in ours.

        Doh corrupt? Hell yes.

  2. CT

    Experts

    The proposer: "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."

    No, I think that does qualify you as an expert.

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Experts

      Excel is an excellent and very powerful tool, and to mangle a phrase: "When you have Excel, everything looks like a spreadsheet".

      It's not an appropriate solution for anything that needs a rock-solid paper trail or anything covering sensitive information, however.

      (Not that I probably couldn't have done a better job or anything, even if it had to be in Excel for some reason)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Experts

        Excel would have been entirely adequate, but it shouldn't have been visible as a spreadsheet to users. The problem is, creating a web interface, or configuring macros and Sharepoint settings to achieve the desired result with reasonable security and auditability is a high degree of expertise that would not have been held in a user team. They probably didn't understand the data processing requirements properly, and if they had, and had asked for the boss to hire a competent developer, they'd have been told "no, that'll be too expensive and too slow, just use copy and paste".

        We've all seen what happens with Excel when needs get even moderately complex - cells merged that mess up future changes, faulty formula, idiots messing up formatting and layout, then somebody does something clever with a pivot table that nobody else understands, no documentation, lack of or troublesome field validation, crap macros....but that doesn't mean it couldn't have worked if properly planned. Trouble is, they'd rather pay an admin clerk a pittance and hope they sought it out, rather than pay a dev a decent wage to create a proper solution.

        1. Little Mouse

          Re: Experts

          ...and let's not forget those special users who insist on categorising cells by background colour...

      2. 43300 Silver badge

        Re: Experts

        In this case, it's hardly a niche area where there isn't commercial softwar available! Any decent recruitment system would do a better job here. Even an off-the-shelf one with a bit of customisation would be better than using Excel and would avoid the risks of copy-and-paste errors.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Experts

          A stack of post-it notes with the doctor's name and score would have worked.

          Then they would have just had to find an NHS manager who could count upto 24 on their fingers (might need 2 managers and half an assistant)

          1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: Experts

            Then they would have just had to find an NHS manager who could count upto 24 on their fingers (might need 2 managers and half an assistant)

            Depending on the system I use, I can count up to 12 or 31 on the fingers of one hand.

            1. ThatOne Silver badge
              Devil

              Re: Experts

              Uuh, quite some radioactive pollution where you live, isn't it...

              1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                Re: Experts

                Uuh, quite some radioactive pollution where you live, isn't it...

                Not really, counting to twelve on your fingers is done by counting the falanges in your fingers with your thumb, counting to 31 can be done using binary.

            2. Intractable Potsherd

              Re: Experts

              Many of us can, but remember that we are talking about *NHS managers* here...

            3. BoldMan

              Re: Experts

              High six!

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Experts

          Based on both facing and as a member of many NHS interview panels, Excel is actually not as terrible as it sounds. The process is pretty archaic but effective, especially now that there is so much remote working/interviewing going on.

          What *should* happen is:

          1) Interview questions are agreed in advance of the panel, and each question sits on its own row in an Excel template. The template is saved down with a copy named for each interviewee.

          2) Each panel member has a copy of the each applicant's template. During the interview, each response is scored from 1 to 4, with 1 being "Not sure how this one got shortlisted" and 4 being "Snap this one up, they're worth more than we're going to pay them.".

          3) After the interview, the panel members convene to discuss their respective scores, and where the scores differ, they will be asked to justify their reasoning, and a consensus score is agreed for each question. The total score is calculated at the bottom of the form, which I suppose explains why Excel is used, as adding up the scores for 10 questions could be tricky :-)

          4) Unless there's a very good reason not to, the highest scoring applicant is offered the job.

          Given that the initial shortlisting process will usually whittle down the applicants to somewhere between 1 to 6 interviewees, it's the last point about copy/pasting the scores that baffles me. At the end of the interviews, it should be pretty simple to compare six total scores and find the highest. Additionally the interview score sheets will be archived for some time, so no need to mangle them all together in one sheet.

          Anonymous because, well it's pretty obvious why really.

  3. Lurko

    Is it me, or is the reporting sub-par?

    It isn't very clear from the two Reg articles, but from the ANRO web site it seems that the latest fiasco is a repeat event. The first bungling took place in late 2021, the most recent in Feb 2023. In both cases it was down to poor processes and lack of holiday control*, so despite the claim that "lessons were learned" in response to the 2021 mess, they clearly were not. I fail to understand why ANRO is a discrete entity within HEE - surely all CT1 roles should be managed by a single (competent) team, regardless of the specialism?

    * Oh, and "staff working from home" was allegedly a contributory factor, because natch it wasn't down to poor supervision or inadequate leadership.

    1. Lurko

      Re: Is it me, or is the reporting sub-par?

      "and lack of quality control".

      Like my own post on the matter. I'd downvote myself if I could.

      1. cookieMonster Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Is it me, or is the reporting sub-par?

        You’ll never go far in the civil service with an attitude like that

        1. Lurko

          Re: Is it me, or is the reporting sub-par?

          Don't worry, I haven't.

        2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Is it me, or is the reporting sub-par?

          You’ll never go far in the civil service with an attitude like that

          Repeat after me: "it's all the fault of IT, it's all the fault of IT"..

    2. Ken G Silver badge
      Trollface

      Lessons WERE learned.

      Unfortunately the person who learned them was on holiday.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lessons WERE learned.

        ... although the lessons required plenty of exhale and not one thought of excel

  4. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    Oooohhh - a vote of no confidence. I bet they're really scared.

    1. keithpeter Silver badge
      Windows

      @Headley

      Not your downvoter, but, yes, I think the senior managers may actually be concerned about this and the resulting actions.

      Don't underestimate the soft power of the Royal Colleges.

  5. Chris Evans

    Blind acceptance! The computer says no!

    Surely whoever read the results should have questioned what seems a pretty obvious error. I suspect they would have reported the results to others who should also have asked for them to be investigated.

    1. abend0c4

      Re: Blind acceptance! The computer says no!

      One of the more depressing aspects of the health service is the "you'll never work in this town again" response to anyone making waves. People soon learn not to,

      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Re: Blind acceptance! The computer says no!

        I believe that the anaesthetist who blew the whistle on the mass slaughter of children during heart surgery in Bristol never worked in the NHS again, despite (a) being right and (b) saving countless lives. And in one of the recent maternity scandals Barrow in Furness?) management threatened staff with dire career consequences if they co-operated with the independent enquiry.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Blind acceptance! The computer says no!

          I do believe he has been happily working in Australia ever since though. Rumour control has it that he received a job offer almost immediately the story broke. Anonymous because...

  6. Winkypop Silver badge
    Facepalm

    That seems odd, no?

    If someone doesn’t understand what they are doing, they’re probably not going to notice that there is an error.

    Even with a basic understanding, you should have some idea of what a valid outcome will look like.

    1. Little Mouse

      Re: That seems odd, no?

      Heh - My Dad said pretty much the same thing, when he found out we were allowed to use pocket calculators in school back in the 80's.

  7. Ken G Silver badge
    Facepalm

    inappropriate and poorly managed use of Microsoft Excel

    Is that a thing now?

    I'd love to read about appropriate and well managed use of Microsoft Excel for hiring processes.

  8. deive

    More of this, please:

    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.

  9. theOtherJT Silver badge

    If the answer is Excel...

    ...you probably didn't understand the question.

    It's been my mantra for nearly 2 decades now, and I'm sticking to it.

    I'm sure there is a legitimate use for Excel somewhere, but I've never actually met it.

    1. Mike 16

      Re: If the answer is Excel...

      This tickled some long-napping neurons that led to my searching for an xls file

      I received back in 2012. The file name itself should pretty much tell the story,

      piglatin.xls

      Yep, a spreadsheet to translate English to Pig Latin. My memory is vague,

      but I believe it may have been written as a "compatibility test" for another

      spreadsheet. Or at least that was the excuse when the programmer was

      asked wtf they'd been doing.

      IIRC, It did work on Excel as late as Word 2003, but not on Apple's

      (new at the time) "Numbers" spreadsheet.

      Far from the weirdest thing about the project that led to me being

      sent that example. A snippet of the reply I sent, about Excel use (among others)

      in a manufacturing QA process:

      =========

      Oh, and FTP? You wish. How about having to deliver the result by

      copying to a windows shared "drive", that you scroll down to in a list

      of over 500 such, because the whole freaking company is one Network

      Neighborhood, from New Jersey to Penang?

      =========

  10. s. pam Silver badge
    Flame

    Applicants should seek counsel

    Any organisation that : "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."

    They could possibly win a settlement in a tribunal which would serve the bumpkins right for such heinous crimes in Excel!

    1. streaky

      Re: Applicants should seek counsel

      It's the UK, you're getting actual damages, they reopened the process so it's what.. travel expenses and whatever it cost to have your suit dry-cleaned and some sheets of paper?

  11. Tron Silver badge

    We need senior management that know what they're doing.

    Then you are living in the wrong country. Perhaps on the wrong planet.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Some of the smartest people in the country having their futures fucked over by Bobby with 3C for A levels. Can't make this up.

  13. Jim Whitaker
    FAIL

    Data Protection breach?

    I would have thought that anyone of the trainees who felt that they had been disadvantaged by this shambles might have a case to bring under the Data Protection legislation. Mind you given how NHS management (especially clinicians in management roles) treat those who point out errors, perhaps trainees eventually with a job will judge it better to keep schtum.

  14. garrettahughes

    British spelling drifting into never, never land

    Anaesthetists How would anyone pronounce that? These are anesthesiologists. which means literally "more than one person who has studied how to use anesthetics. Same goes for "maths" an utterly unpronounceable word.. Even your spell checker doesn't like it. We study biology not biologies, chemistry not chemistries, physics not physicses, and MATH not maths. Recently I have seen in the British press, in The Economist no less, something like "they have come to great harms". If you counter with "They put themselves in harms way", then you don't know the difference between a noun and a possessive adjective. That should be "They put themselves in harm's way". Please stop mething up the English language.

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