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Trainee and potential pharmacists need to share details of issues with online exams

The PDA are reiterating the call for candidates who took the online examination last week to share more information about their experience.

Tue 5th July 2022 The PDA

Since the latest online examinations were held on 29 June, PDA members have been sharing their experiences with the PDA team and social media has been alive with stories, and some speculation, about issues and difficulties with the process.  

The PDA is calling on all candidates to ensure they feedback to the GPhC or PSNI about their experience and inviting them to inform the PDA so that the organisation can determine what reasonable options for individual or class action may be considered to support members.

PDA’s initial response to the situation is here

What happened?

The two UK pharmacy regulators, GPhC and PSNI held a joint online common registration assessment on Wednesday 29th June.

Approximately 2,700 candidates attended 113 test centres which were managed by private company the BTL Group.  BTL had replaced the previous supplier, Pearson Vue, after there were issues with previous sittings.

It is a reasonable expectation that lessons from previous sittings would have been learned and that all candidates would receive fair and non-discriminatory treatment.  However, while the expectation was that process would run smoothly, there were issues reported at some test centres.  While the most significant issues seem to be Nottingham and Portsmouth, there were issues reported from other centres across the country too.

Reports from PDA members over the weekend included factors such as:

  • Computers to be used being delivered late on the day
  • Insufficient breaks between papers
  • Inadequate invigilation
  • Technical issues
  • Confusion over the use of calculators,
  • Examination rooms being unfit for purpose
  • Reasonable adjustments agreed for some candidates with disabilities were not provided

Immediate and longer term action required

To confirm the appropriate response to this situation, it needs to be known as to what issues happened where and how many candidates they impacted.

The GPhC have issued a survey to candidates to enable details to be provided and the PDA encourage candidates to explain clearly what happened at their location.  The PDA also want to receive this information to enable the organisation to determine what individual, collective and even legal action may be possible to support those who have been disadvantaged.

Candidates had a reasonable expectation that these examinations would be managed effectively in appropriate environment and have experienced issues through no fault of their own.

How this situation is addressed for future assessments will need a proper and independent review involving the Professional Standards Authority, however the immediate priority must be for the fair and consistent treatment of candidates across all test centres and for those responsible to compensate candidates for any disadvantage.

The PDA reiterate that candidates whose wellbeing has been impacted can look to Pharmacist Support, or agencies such as the Samaritans for immediate assistance.  These individuals need a suitable outcome for their position now so they can plan their next steps.

A new exam needed ASAP

Given the issues experienced previously, having a resit exam ready would have meant that disadvantaged candidates could be offered an alternative sitting soon to minimise the time between last week’s sitting and an opportunity to put right the problems.  If a decision was made not to have such a contingency in place, then such an exam needs to be developed without delay and, if necessary, held using a traditional paper-based exam if that is the only way to guarantee no repetition of the issues.

What should candidates do?

This situation should not have been allowed to occur and will understandably be hugely concerning for the examination candidates.  There is no solution that will simply address all aspects; and patient safety, professional standards and the ongoing reputation of pharmacy must also be protected in any solution or mix of solutions.  Transparency and ongoing communication are vital.

Once the PDA has received more information about the facts of the overall situation, there will be further statements.

Trainee and potential pharmacists who sat the exam should keep in contact with the PDA. Any candidates who are not yet members of the PDA are encouraged to join, as membership may be necessary to be included in any potential class action.

Collette Bradford, PDA Director of Organising & Engagement said

The PDA understand the anxiety and distress caused by the difficulties experienced by some members at the assessment sitting last week. We are listening to all members’ experiences and reading every email and message we receive. A member of the PDA team will reply to each email as soon as possible.

We will also take all your views to our meetings with the regulator to ensure your voice and experience is heard. We are also considering what options are available to support members further at this challenging time.

The regulator needs to ensure that future pharmacy online examinations are a proficient, robust and positive experience for all candidates.”

Learn more

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