How the coronavirus crisis has impacted on pre-registration pharmacists

On 26 March, when our regulatory body, the GPhC released a statement regarding the postponement of the registration exam, the initial feeling amongst us pre-regs was anger and confusion, recalls Jasraj S Matharu.

Thu 7th May 2020 The PDA

Over a month later, there is still a lack of information from the GPhC and a lot of pre-regs feel that we are in limbo. We are anxious due to the uncertainty. We understand that the decision to have a provisional registration is complex and requires a lot of thought to make sure that it is feasible for everyone, but we also need answers.

 

Pictured: Jasraj S Matharu, a PDA Union rep and pre-registration pharmacist that works on the front line in the fight against COVID-19 at a pharmacy within a GP practice in Kent.

 

The GPhC statement stated:

“We have now made the decision to postpone the registration assessment in June and September and the PSNI Exam in June and October after taking account of the views expressed by participants. We will look to reschedule these assessments for a later date(s), either towards the end of this year or early in 2021.”

This final registration assessment is a consolidation of many years of hard work; from completing our A-levels to receiving our Mpharm degrees, then to ultimately becoming registered and qualified pharmacists. This is the very final stage of that very arduous process.

The details regarding the GPhC’s decision are still yet to be confirmed. Not only for pre-regs but for many final year pharmacy students, as there is uncertainty regarding their final year exams as well. Pre-regs should not be expected to do the same examinations they would have taken, any future assessment needs to be fair and reflect our unique working experience on the front line in the current pandemic.

Last weeks’ PDA pre-reg webinar was really useful. In a desperate search for answers, a lot of pre-regs looked to the doctors and nurses and what their regulatory bodies were doing for them. All their students were being pushed through their registration to be able to support the NHS through this pandemic. However, there was a delay in our regulatory body updating us on the situation.

The PDA was listening to our views at a time when we needed to be heard and needed support. The differences in the courses and development of healthcare professionals were explained and you can see how changes to the system need to be made to prevent this from happening to future pre-regs. The PDA answered our questions, provided reassurance, and listened to our concerns.

Although the PDA has done all they can to support pre-regs during this difficult time of uncertainty, a lot of us still need to hear the detail from the GPhC. There is a lot of speculation and hearsay regarding provisional registration and any future assessment examination. The PDA has said they will go back to the GPhC to get some of these questions answered, but a lot is yet to be confirmed. Pre-regs would appreciate the GPhC answering these pressing questions directly, in a similar format such as a Q&A session.

“I do sometimes feel that pre-regs are undervalued.”

Following the GPhC’s announcement, I created a group called the Pre-registration and Newly Qualified Pharmacists Association. It began as a WhatsApp group and within a few days, I had 220 participants comprising of Mpharm students, pre-regs and newly qualified pharmacists. My group now consists of students and graduates from over 16 universities across the country, who are completing their training with various employers within various industry sectors.

The diversity within the group enables us to discuss a wide range of concerns which are currently affecting future pharmacy professionals. The group was created within the last month and now has over 300 members, a social media presence and a website.

Taking the action to create this network was how I found my way into becoming a PDA Union rep. I decided to email all the regulatory bodies and membership organisations such as the PDA to get more support. The same day I emailed the PDA, their Head of Organising & Engagement, Collette Bradford, called me back and we have been in close contact ever since to make sure that all our pre-reg queries and views are heard and can be shared with the GPhC.

I do sometimes feel that pre-regs are undervalued, we undergo a four-year pharmacy master’s degree before completing the pre-reg assessment year and especially in a community setting, there is a lot that you have to learn in regards to on the job experience, all while preparing to sit your final exams. We now find ourselves working in very stressful situations with significant changes to our tutor support and relationships and without the time to study for examinations.

It also seems that pharmacists often get left behind, like when the government recently announced that there will be £60k life insurance for NHS workers that die while working on the front line. Pharmacists were not originally included in that and I know the PDA campaigned for our profession to be included. Initially, we were left out, yet pharmacists and pre-regs play an integral part of multi-disciplinary teams ensuring that patients receive safe and effective care within the NHS and as part of the wider healthcare workforce.

A lot of the time pharmacists are putting themselves at risk on the front line engaging and supporting the public through this pandemic. Pre-regs are also helping and supporting patients whilst also trying to deal with the uncertainty regarding their progression into becoming fully qualified pharmacists.

In university, we are taught about being expert clinicians of managing medication but in the community setting, we are not as able to use the skills that we learned in university to their full potential. However, in hospital pharmacy, although you get to use those skills more, you are part of a much larger team and have a more guided and structured support network. In community, you are part of a much smaller team and the level of training you receive all depends on your specific training provider and employer.

“The outbreak of COVID-19 has had a big impact on everyday life.”

This year’s pre-regs were the second cohort to be part of the Oriel system. To be selected for each position you had to have an interview. There were scenario questions, discussions with professionals, a calculations paper, and a Situational Judgement Test (SJT). Based on this, you were given a rank number and depending on your rank, you were put into a pre-reg place that ranked all your available options and matched you to a placement.

Luckily, I got the placement that I wanted – in a pharmacy based in a GP surgery where I could create a good rapport with prescribers and be involved in the development of care plans in a community setting. We have a lot of contact with patients on a daily basis.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has had a big impact on everyday life. My tutor had to go into 12 weeks shielding, he was the store manager of the pharmacy I was working in within a GP surgery. As I have to have a certain amount of contact with my tutor each week to complete my pre-reg year, I had to switch to a different branch to be able to complete my training and get sufficient time with a tutor.

The move to a different branch within the same chain was quite an adjustment. This was a new branch and a completely new environment with new people. There was a lot of uncertainty. It was a busy time. There was an influx in the amount of dispensing and prescriptions that had to be handled and a huge increase in the workload but a decrease in the amount of staff on shift. It can be quite difficult working in a high-pressure environment. You have to make sure that you put patient safety and care first but also work as efficiently as possible. Luckily, I have been supported very well. I know of a lot of pre-regs that have been working longer hours to cope with the increase in workload.

In terms of PPE I am quite lucky, the company I work for make sure all staff have the right training and protection. We have been given everything that we need, however, I know that isn’t the same experience for all pre-regs and indeed all pharmacists. The health, safety and well-being of pre-regs and pharmacists needs to be paramount to ensure that we can give our best to the patients.

In our registration year, we have appraisals with our tutor at week 1, week 13 and week 39. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, some pre-regs have been struggling with less support and progression – learning and evidence writing has taken a back seat, which has led to a lot of pre-regs being nervous about their week 39 assessments because in these unique circumstances it’s been more difficult to meet some of the standards, even for those who are getting support from colleagues and tutors.

“I encourage all pre-regs to join the PDA for free today.”

In the future, I would like to do my independent prescriber course and I want to be involved in community pharmacy based in a GP setting. More than that I want to create an independent network for young pharmacy professionals to be able to provide them with a voice, raise concerns, and work collaboratively with the PDA to tackle key issues which directly affect us.

I encourage all pre-regs to join the PDA for free today. With so much uncertainty, it is important to be a part of the PDA so that we can benefit from indemnity and the ongoing support and guidance throughout our careers. Over the past few weeks, the PDA has shown that they care, that they can support us and campaign with us. We need to join and get involved. Let’s not waste this opportunity to be heard and to lead change.

By Jasraj S Matharu

Get involved

If you are a pre-reg and would like to get involved in a PDA focus group, please express your interest by emailing Jayne Love, PDA Union Organiser, at: Jayne.Love@pda-union.org.

 

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