By Neil Trainis
Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Claire Anderson has written to General Pharmaceutical Council chair Nigel Clarke condemning the regulator for failing to understand the “devastating impact” of technical problems during last month’s online registration assessment on some trainees.
The assessment, which took place on July 27-29, was taken by 2,915 candidates, 34 remotely in the UK and overseas using an online system run by Pearson Vue who also provided the exam for the majority of candidates in its test centres.
The GPhC said several candidates sitting remotely could not take the assessment because of “internet connection issues” while “a small number” in test centres “experienced some technical issues which were largely resolved by the test centre staff.” The GPhC told Independent Community Pharmacist that three candidates were unable to sit the second paper because of “a system failure in one test centre.”
In her letter to Mr Clarke, who is stepping down after nearly eight years as chair, Ms Anderson revealed that some candidates sitting the assessment at a centre in Redditch experienced technical problems that meant they were unable to see the clinical paper on-screen, preventing them from completing the exam.
She said a GPhC staff member had confirmed that those trainees would have to sit both papers again in November despite the issue affecting only one paper.
The GPhC told ICP that it has apologised to trainees and their employers and said it will refund their assessment fees and will not charge those trainees for the next sitting.
While it said it was “reviewing what other steps may be possible to help them,” the GPhC did not say whether this could include allowing affected trainees to resit the assessment before November or reviewing its decision to make trainees retake both papers.
“We are working with Pearson Vue to investigate exactly what happened on this occasion and prevent similar issues occurring in subsequent sittings. We will be sending a response to the letter from the RPS in due course,” the regulator said.
In her letter, Ms Anderson was highly critical of the GPhC for failing to put in place an “adequate contingency plan for IT failure of this type” and said it was “deeply disappointing” that it had not come up with a solution that would avoid heaping stress on candidates.
“There does not appear to be an understanding of the significant impact on their wellbeing, compounded by a demonstrable financial cost. We have been contacted by trainees and an employer about the distress this has caused, and they are urgently seeking a fair resolution,” she wrote.
“It is deeply disappointing that GPhC has not been able to offer a better alternative to sitting both papers (including the one sat without issue this time) in November and do not seem to be currently working on improved solutions.”
The Professional Standards Authority, which is preparing its response to the difficulties candidates experienced in the run-up to the rescheduled June 2020 assessment, which was held online in March this year, told ICP it would “take into account” the latest problems when carrying out its performance review of the GPhC later this year.