By Neil Trainis
Exclusive: General Pharmaceutical Council chief executive Duncan Rudkin has said an internal review of what went wrong in the period leading up to the March registration assessment which saw many students struggling to book places is “well under way".
Speaking to Independent Community Pharmacist this week, Mr Rudkin said the regulator needed to learn from the difficulties it encountered in rescheduling the June and September assessments last year because of the Covid pandemic and the logistical challenges of holding those exams last month.
Candidates looking to sit the assessments were left in limbo for eight months without any idea of when the rescheduled exam would take place. The GPhC announced on March 26 2020 that the assessments would be postponed and did not reveal the sitting dates until November 30.
Mr Rudkin said that delay was down to “a very unpredictable environment with a very challenging, complex exercise to undertake" in finding alternative ways to hold the assessment and a procurement process to find an assessment sittings provider, which "itself took quite a long time".
Once the dates had been disclosed, some candidates across the UK were unable to secure places at local test centres run by exam provider Pearson Vue because they were fully booked. These concerns were particularly acute in Scotland, where some candidates were initially told they would have to cross the border into England for their exam before alternative arrangements were made.
The GPhC told ICP it will report to its governing council and set out what it has learned about the March assessment and that information will be contained in a report that will be included in public papers for its Council meeting on May 13.
“One of things that we expect of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy owners that is quite important to us in terms of the standards we set is that there must be openness and honesty when things haven't gone right and lessons should be learned from that,” Mr Rudkin said.
"Some of them in a sense are quite operational lessons that have implications for sittings later this year, so it's important we learn and apply those lessons as quickly as possible and that's already well under way."
He said the GPhC will also publish a "fuller, more strategic set of reflections" looking at factors such as the assessment model and procurement process.
Some within community pharmacy have called for an independent review on the events in the run-up to the March assessment. Mr Rudkin said the GPhC “will want to have some external challenge and scrutiny".
“I'm sure there will be a role for our external auditors as part of that. The conduct of the exam of course is also part of our performance which is reviewed periodically by the Professional Standards Authority, so there are a number of different dimensions of scrutiny," he said.
Mr Rudkin did not reveal how many assessment sitting providers the GPhC considered before they appointed Pearson Vue but insisted the regulator “explored options with a number of potential providers.”
“I'm not trying to be evasive but there are some rules about procurement information which are very important in terms of commercial sensitivity,” he said.
He insisted a "legally sound and competitive procurement process" was undertaken, "bearing in mind that we were in the situation of not knowing what the pandemic situation was going to be at the point of delivery.”
Mr Rudkin said the GPhC recognised "that it's been a very difficult year for candidates for a whole host of reasons, primarily because of the challenging circumstances that many of them were facing both personally and at work during the pandemic".
He also paid tribute to "the way they have risen to that challenge as key members of the workforce which has been hugely impressive".