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Potential cheating, collusion or plagiarism among trainee pharmacy technicians

PDA members have recently brought to our attention that potential cheating, collusion and plagiarism may be continuing, seemingly unchecked by the General Pharmaceutical Council.

Tue 18th December 2018 The PDA

The PDA is currently publishing its report about the role of pharmacy technicians. One of the issues raised in the report was potential cheating, collusion and plagiarism among those training to be a pharmacy technician and undertaking a distance learning course. A small number of online distance learning courses are undertaken by many trainee pharmacy technicians in the UK. PDA members have recently brought to our attention that potential cheating, collusion and plagiarism may be continuing, seemingly unchecked by the General Pharmaceutical Council.

The most recent example highlighted by our members involves a pharmacy technician undertaking a modular resit assessment, who posted the question on an online forum to get help with the answer. Various answers were published and remain available for other trainees undergoing the same assessment.

GPhC-commissioned research, published in 2014, included comments relating to the potential for cheating, collusion and plagiarism on pharmacy technicians’ initial education and training courses. The report can be found here. It is unclear what action the GPhC has taken on this matter since that time.

The PDA’s report shows that, since 2011, an extensive set of responses to assessment questions appears to have been developing, all of which are publicly visible and indexed on online search engines. This means that trainee pharmacy technicians completing the distance learning courses can find answers to these questions and could potentially plagiarise them word-for-word to help them pass their assessments, without having conducted their own research or developing their own understanding. Some of the suggested responses to exam questions indicate what grading was obtained for that response. Communication also appears to occur through private messaging. As at 22 March 2018, the threads identified had been viewed a combined total 61,483 times.

Alima Batchelor, Head of Policy, said: “We are naturally extremely concerned. It is important from a public safety and assurance point of view that this is addressed.

A PDA member who contacted us recently about this issue told us he’d blown the whistle to the GPhC about a trainee technician recording evidence online about activities that hadn’t actually happened, then logging on to the Pharmacy Manager’s email account to verify her own evidence. The trainee subsequently registered as a pharmacy technician and our member tells us that there was no apparent action from either the course provider or the GPhC. The Area Manager of the pharmacy involved told him she was disappointed in him for raising the issue.

The PDA report recommended that the GPhC investigate the issue and if cheating, plagiarism or collusion is found, it must be addressed for all pharmacy technicians who may have been involved or accessed the information. The PDA will raise this issue with the GPhC again.

Alima Batchelor continued: The role of pharmacy technicians needs to be developed. If pharmacists are to be able to rely on the skills of pharmacy technicians to a greater extent in the future as part of a complementary skill mix model, we have to acknowledge and address issues such as this. This affects patients, the public and our members, who are working alongside pharmacy technicians.

Buttercups recently responded to the PDA report, saying among other things that “cheating is a part of the human condition”. However, it said it has robust systems to detect cheating and will respond swiftly and decisively where it is discovered on its own courses. Its full response can be found here.

The PDA’s report can be found here and Appendix D, which deals with the potential cheating, collusion and plagiarism, can be found here.

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