Pharmacy students, professionals and sector bodies have called on the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) to scrap the 2019/20 pre-reg exam in response to the latest national lockdown.
The exam – which was initially postponed last April in response to Covid-19 – is currently rescheduled for 17 and 18 March after months of delays.
But concerns are now being raised about the safety of students travelling to the test centre after a sharp rise in Covid cases has prompted another lockdown – and over the necessity of the pre-reg exam after many have already worked as provisionally-registered pharmacists during the pandemic.
Abby Clarke – who has been working in a community pharmacy in Nottingham for almost six months during the pandemic – is calling for the regulator to drop the exam as she believes it to be unnecessary.
Ms Clarke told the Pharmacist: ‘Provisionally registered pharmacists who have been working in pharmacies throughout the pandemic have been acting as responsible pharmacists for five months now and I think this is more than enough to demonstrate that we are competent to move onto the actual register. The exam is irrelevant now.’
She added: ‘We already have the problems of no paper being allowed and no water, and now we have a third lockdown and an incredibly infectious strain of the disease. Never before have pre-reg students had to risk their safety attending an exam. I think cancelling the exam in this situation is more than acceptable.’
Meanwhile, some professional pharmacists took to social media to express their thoughts on the exam.
‘Very anxious and stressed’
Prov-reg pharmacist Kyra, who like Ms Clarke has been working in community pharmacy for the last five months, also thinks the exam should be cancelled.
‘I think the exam is outdated and needs to be replaced with something more appropriate like a portfolio. I know pharmacists practising today who never sat an exam,’ she explained.
‘I am currently a provisional registrant working throughout a pandemic while trying to study with very little updates from the GPhC, which I think has made all of our cohort very anxious and stressed. The reality is that if we do not pass we will instantly lose our job – which we have been able to do with practically no supervision for 5 months now.’
Other students have also raised concerns over the potential health risk of sitting the exam in person during a pandemic.
‘Abolish the exam’
Leyla Hannbeck, the CEO of the Association of Independent Multiple told the Pharmacist she believed the exam should be ‘abolished’ or delayed.
‘The registration exam for the provisional registrants needs to be either delayed or abolished. There are massive workforce issues on the ground due to the new strain of Covid and the provisional registrants are key to helping our members.
‘These are unprecedented times and we are in a state of emergency as a country with pharmacies being on the frontline hence we are asking the decision-makers to show flexibility around this.’
Paul Day, Director of the PDA said: ‘The population that are expected to take the exam in March are quite diverse and include resitters who may be on their last chance to pass; pre-regs who never became prov-regs; and those who became prov-regs.
‘Some prov-regs never actually practised, some have recently stopped practising to prepare for the exam and others are still working full-time as pharmacists caring for patients and helping tackle the pandemic. Add to that mix a range of safety concerns or challenges around travelling to an exam centre and/or the conditions there and no single answer will address everything.’
He added: ‘However, every one of those individuals are relying on the GPhC to make arrangements that will provide a fair and appropriate next step.’
A spokesperson from the GPhC told the Pharmacist it would be issuing a statement to prov-reg pharmacists in due course.