GPhC exam: What a way to treat our trainee pharmacists
What happened at some of the test centres where candidates were sitting the registration assessment would be laughable if it wasn’t so deeply serious. It is surely time for an independent review, says PM deputy editor Arthur Walsh
Did you have a sense of déjà vu when reports about ‘GPhC exam chaos’ hit the headlines in the pharmacy press this summer?
Delays, technical snags and own goals have dogged the regulator since early on in the pandemic, when it fatefully decided to ditch pen and paper exams in favour of ‘online’ assessments (which still require candidates to attend a test centre in person – go figure).
It must have hoped that with the appointment of new assessment provider BTL, things would be more plain sailing. Unfortunately for the GPhC, and even more so for the 2,700 trainees who sat the exam in June, this was not to be.
At least five test centres faced significant delays, most notoriously the University of Nottingham where candidates were chucked out of the building at 11pm before they had been given enough time to complete the assessment – but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
I have spoken to numerous candidates who claim that problems with the June assessment go far beyond these delays, with many saying that people in their test centres were able to cheat with calculators because of poor invigilation. Excessive noise and poor internet connections have also been reported.
Then there are the claims that the calculations paper deviated significantly from the framework documents they had been given to revise for the exam – a charge the GPhC denies strenuously, saying it follows the same blueprint for every paper “without exception”.
Not a good look
It’s not a good look for the regulator. “I’m not sure what the GPhC is playing at – this is a disaster,” one trainee, who had been sitting their second attempt at the assessment, told me.
The GPhC has at least acknowledged that what happened on June 29 is of great concern. Its chair Gisela Abbam said: “The council is extremely dissatisfied with the way the assessment was delivered. We are urgently investigating with BTL what went wrong through a serious incident review and will then consider what further action we should take, so that there is due accountability.”
While many candidates sat the assessment without any issues, it remains the case that the GPhC has another mess on its hands.
At the time of publishing, its main solution seems to be to offer provisional registration to anyone who can provide evidence that they were affected by “procedural errors” relating to the assessment. It will also refund exam fees and allow affected foundation trainees to discount the June 29 assessment as one of their three attempts.
Provreg status – originally designed to help trainees support beleaguered pharmacy teams during the pandemic – is better than nothing. But it seems a bit of a sticking plaster, with many trainees seemingly nonplussed by the offer.
“Giving candidates the chance to play pretend pharmacist won’t make everyone forget about poor regulation,” said one furious individual.
There are other possible remedies. The RPS and PDA have both called on the regulator to hold a resit exam at the earliest opportunity to ensure any impact on those affected is kept to a minimum.
It has also been suggested that a return to pen and paper, at least temporarily, may help prevent the type of chaos we saw in June.
An independent investigation by the Professional Standards Authority is also surely called for. After so many needless mistakes affecting people starting out on their careers in pharmacy, pressure must be put on the GPhC to ensure it prioritises its registration function just as much as its fitness to practise role.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your experiences of the registration assessment
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