Some of the West Midlands' leading doctors have warned that a new online recruitment system is harming the job prospects of many first-class medical students.

They are among 80 in the medical profession to raise concerns about a system that has scrapped interviews in favour of points scoring from answers on application forms.

They say their students are demoralised and confused by the Modernising Medical Careers (MMC) method and claim the system uses a form of computer dating to recruit staff without the need for interviews.

Martin Whittle, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Birmingham Women's Hospital; Michael Frenneaux, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at The University of Birmingham; Roger Grace, professor of colorectal surgery and general surgery at The Nuffield Hospital, Wolver-hampton, and David Luesley, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Birmingham's City Hospital, are among those voicing concern.

Their fears were raised in a letter published in a national newspaper at the weekend.

Charles McCollum, professor of surgery at South Manchester University Hospital, who organised the letter, said first-class students were overlooked in favour of less suitable candidates.

Too much emphasis was placed on personal issues such as ability to work in a team and leadership qualities, the doctors complained.

Prof McCollum said 60 out of 360 students at Manchester University failed to get jobs after the first round of the MMC selection process.

He said: "We are very concerned. The Department of Health has taken no notice.

"It's driving us spare. We have high-fliers who will make excellent surgeons who have been rated as failures by this process, despite being excellent students. They are desperate. Some have been told they will have to be assessed to see if they are even fit to be doctors, and there is nothing we can do to help them."

Some students are understood to be considering suing MMC over a process they allege to be unfair.

The Department of Health said the MMC recruitment method "simplifies" the system and "reduces waste and bureaucracy".

It added it was confident there are enough places to ensure all graduates of "good standing" will get trainee positions in hospitals.

The MMC programme was set up to allay criticisms that the previous system of selection and mentoring by senior figures was seen as an "old boy" network.

Under the new system, students who have completed five years of medical training apply online for a two-year foundation training course in hospitals.

Application forms are divided into six sections with exam qualifications carrying the same weights as leader-ship qualities. Once the points have been assessed by a panel including doctors, a computer is used to match applicants with jobs. The lower the score, the less likely an applicant is to get the job that he or she sought. Failed applicants then have to resort to the second round of the process.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We are confident that there are sufficient places to ensure that all UK graduates in good standing will be able to enter the Foundation Programme by August 2006, although some students will not know the location of their placement until the summer.

"There are only 600 applicants not yet placed. We know that a little over 400 of these applied for the most popular jobs, and they will undoubtedly get jobs in next round."

She added that the MMC method of recruitment simplified the system and reduced waste.