Urgent action needed by GPhC to retain credibility of online registration assessment

The latest issues with the first online registration assessment have left many of the population of exam candidates with little or no confidence in the arrangements and wondering what else may go wrong between now and receiving their results.

Mon 1st March 2021 The PDA

The GPhC made the decision to introduce new online examinations, as a solution to the long delayed 2020 registration assessment, during a pandemic. Despite the regulator being made aware of the organisation and implementation issues with other professional exams run by their chosen supplier, pharmacist exam candidates have experienced problems with their arrangements. Issues included delayed communications, limited spaces to sit remotely, overseas candidate issues and last week, chaos around the communication and booking system from Pearson Vue which has resulted in some candidates expected to travel miles to a test center and others being left without a place to sit the assessment. Many candidates are feeling anxious, stressed, and disillusioned.

This is all just two weeks before the assessment days, in the unprecedented context of a pandemic with many exam candidates working in the frontline of the health care system. As soon as the PDA were aware of the issues raised by members last week, we called for the GPhC to fix the problems without delay and to communicate regularly and directly with the cohort, and they have committed to us that they will do so.

The PDA has consistently responded to the concerns of prov-reg, pre-reg and resitter members throughout this pandemic, working with our reps to support all candidates, including, lobbying the GPhC at each hurdle to provide a fair and supportive assessment process and timely and helpful communications.

The PDA believe that contingency needs to be put in place to mitigate against further issues including, for example, any test center issues or poor system functionality on the days of the assessments. Given the challenges to date, PDA also believe it is also no longer reasonable or realistic to say that sitting the registration assessment this March should count as one of the limited number of attempts candidates have to pass the exam.

Collette Bradford, PDA Director of Organising & Engagement said: “The PDA calls for the GPhC to acknowledge the challenges that these candidates have faced, the contribution that many of them have made to the response to the pandemic and patient care, and the resilience that they have demonstrated in the face of uncertainty and unprecedented circumstances associated with their unique journey to registration.

The PDA support our members and believe it is fair and reasonable that this March 2021 assessment, the first ever online attempt, should not count towards a candidate’s three attempts to pass the entire assessment in one sitting.”

Since the scheduled 2020 pre-reg exam was postponed last year, as well as providing support for their exam preparation, the PDA has been listening to our members who are exam candidates and taking their views, suggestions, and concerns to the GPhC to support the profession in ensuring an assessment process that maintains patient safety and the reputation of the profession, balanced with fair treatment of candidates.

The PDA have a broad membership within the exam candidates, and we have always been aware that members need a solution that treats them all fairly. The GPhC have taken on board the member feedback raised at meetings with the PDA and have made some informed decisions, including around provisional registration, employer guidance, FAQs, hydration, holding a webinar on the assessment process, and on overseas candidates.

The GPhC committed that spaces at exam centres were to be allocated on a first come first served basis, but last week details of how to book were issued by email in phases across the cohort, leaving some of those who were notified later in the day to find all spaces were already taken in their locality. This included no spaces being left available in there whole of Scotland by later in the day. The alternative for candidates may be to travel significant distances, possibly by public transport, during pandemic lockdown rules and with concerns not to spread or catch the virus.

Candidates were also concerned that some had confirmed morning bookings with a lunch break in which they were obliged to leave the exam venue, which was scheduled before candidates with afternoon bookings had commenced, leaving the risk of accusations of early candidates passing paper details to those sitting later. This GPhC later wrote to candidates saying in fact there were no afternoon sittings, and this was an error from the Pearson Vue booking system. Meanwhile candidates overseas had not received details of how to book their slots.

In response to the current issues, the PDA believe the GPhC, and their supplier Pearson Vue, should either create more capacity and/or offer more remote sittings.

The GPhC concluded early on that an alternative form of assessment for those who were practicing as registrants was not appropriate and also fixed a decision to simultaneously switch to an online solution this year. As the exam has a significant number of exam candidates located overseas, there are limited number of organisations who can provide international online exam venues and invigilation for those taking the exam at home, and the GPhC therefore contracted Pearson Vue.

The PDA appreciate that Pearson Vue may be the preferred choice, possibly the only realistic option, to provide the online exam as specified but nevertheless the GPhC have chosen to commission them.  Last year the PDA shared with the GPhC the reported poor experiences of other professions with exams run by Pearson Vue in the UK and overseas. These included issues with systems, the delivery of the exams and treatment of professional candidates on the day.

The PDA support our members views that it would be fair and reasonable for this March 2021 assessment, the first ever online attempt, to not count towards the candidates three attempts to pass the entire assessment in one sitting and that the GPhC should urgently confirm that this is the case, which will remove one aspect of the current pressure candidates are under and we have raised this again in a meeting with the regulator today.

Scrutinising decisions regarding this assessment process

There have been some discussions within the profession about the decision by the GPhC Council to delay the 2020 assessment for so long, to move to a new online examination during a pandemic and in relation to their responsibility to deliver a fair and robust education and training programme.

There is also a very clear link, acknowledged in many healthcare professions, between the well-being of the cohort and their ability to engage in their profession and to deliver and maintain patient standards and care. Members have clearly highlighted to the PDA that at times, their experience of this assessment process has had a detrimental impact on their mental health and well-being.

The PDA agree that the decisions that have led to this point need scrutiny and we know concerns have been raised with the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) the body that regulates health regulators.

The PDA is a UK-wide body and has members in Northern Ireland where the PSNI, another body regulated by the PSA, managed to conclude their equivalent 2020 pre-registration assessment last Autumn, with a 98% pass mark.  Though the GPhC has around 20 times the number of candidates, they also have proportionately more resources, yet have managed the situation entirely differently and the 2020 pre-reg cohort in Britain are now facing a set of assessment arrangements in which many have no confidence.

The PSA are best placed to review the two approaches.

Employers can be more supportive

Provisional registrants that take the exam in March, will either gain full pharmacist status or will be removed from the register. However, those who do not pass the exam may sit again in June and may then pass, along with other candidates who have chosen to wait until June or decide they are not ‘fit to sit’ in March 2021, some of whom will continue to work until the summer assessment.

The PDA reiterates a call for employers to do whatever they can to continue to offer individuals who have not passed the assessment some form of employment until they try again in June, wherever possible.

The rest of the profession, including those 3rd and 4th year students who are making decisions about their own career pathway, are noticing how employers are treating some of the most vulnerable workers in pharmacy.

 

READ MORE

Sitting the registration assessment in March 2021 – Withdrawal and Nullification

ProvReg exam candidates need support 

PDA urges employers to be flexible and support the next generation of pharmacists

The GPhC announcd the assessment exam dates in November 2020

PDA calls on employers to support prov-reg pharmacists with the study and revision leave they need

PDA launches new Revision Assessment Programme

Don’t miss the deadline for registering for reasonable adjustments for the March 2021 assessment

PDA urge the GPhC to ensure there is a fair assessment process

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