The chief medical officer has batted off calls to resign over junior doctors' recruitment, blaming the crisis on a surge of overseas applicants.

Sir Liam Donaldson told the Commons health select committee that the government was unprepared for the number of international medical graduates that applied to specialist training posts in the UK this year, leading to 32,000 junior doctors chasing 19,000 places.

Department of Health policy plans to prioritise UK and European candidates were put on hold pending a judicial review.

The DoH won the review too late to affect the 2007 intake and the decision was quashed by the Court of Appeal two weeks ago. This means international competition for jobs will remain an issue.

The DoH's written evidence to the committee's inquiry into Modernising Medical Careers predicted applications will increase by 50 per cent next year.

Sir Liam said: 'With so much competition internationally, it's a very high-risk strategy to say we're going to base our health services on doctors who might be attracted to work in other countries. 'In my view, had the numbers not been as high as they were, we wouldn't have had the majority of the problems.'

But Matthew Jameson-Evans of campaign group Remedy UK told HSJ: 'Putting the blame on the number of [international applicants], as if it was out of their control, is disingenuous. The policy was plainly illegal.'

Asked by Liberal Democrat MP Sandra Gidley if he would resign, Sir Liam said: 'Accountability didn't rest only with me, it was spread quite widely.'