Students who choose to sit the pre-registration assessment in March should not be removed from the register if they fail the exam, the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA) has said.

In a statement published last week, the student body urged the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) to consider ‘additional adjustments’ to the 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 pre-reg exams in light of the pandemic and latest national lockdown.

This comes after the GPhC faced calls to scrap the delayed exam for 2019/20 candidates, which is currently scheduled to take place at a Pearson Vue test centre on 17 and 18 March.

While the BPSA expressed support for GPhC’s decision to hold an assessment sitting in March, it asked the regulatory body not to remove those pre-reg pharmacists who are not successful in passing the assessment.

The body said: ‘Sitting an assessment under such tough conditions and in a new environment and setting is certain to lead to competent pharmacists falling below the required standard on the day.

‘We feel that with the additional pressures that the health service and staff are under, it would be reasonable to make this adjustment to allow those that practise as provisionally-registered pharmacists to continue to do so if they were to not be successful in the assessment during the pandemic in their first or second attempts.’

The BPSA also called on the regulatory body to extend the provisional register past July 2021 and be continued for ‘at least six months post-pandemic’ to ensure each candidate can have ‘adequate preparation time without the current additional pressures’.

‘Exceptional circumstances’

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) also said the March assessment should still take place, but that students should have the option to sit the examination remotely ‘if they prefer’.

In a statement, chairs of the three national pharmacy boards in England, Scotland and Wales, Claire Anderson, Jonathan Burton and Suzanne Scott-Thomas, said: ‘Trainees should think carefully about being “fit to sit” and if they feel that their individual circumstances mean that they are unable to prepare adequately they should delay until the next sitting. If they do feel they will be ready to sit, we encourage them not to delay in applying to the GPhC.’

They added: ‘Holding a delayed examination in the midst of a pandemic makes it very challenging for trainees to prepare adequately and perform to their full potential.’

The RPS also urged the GPhC to consider alternative routes for candidates who have already been working on the frontline as provisionally-registered pharmacists.

‘The unprecedented circumstances in which we find ourselves warrant the GPhC requesting an extraordinary change to the law to allow this to happen,’ the statement said.

‘The GPhC must ensure that new alternative routes to full registration are fair and equitable for all trainees whilst, importantly, continuing to protect public safety.’

Alternative routes ‘not feasible’

Duncan Rudkin, chief executive of the GPhC, said in a statement last week (8 January) that the registration assessment is an ‘essential step towards full registration’ and alternative routes were ‘not feasible’.

He added: ‘The registration assessment is the most effective method to maintain standards for entry to the pharmacist register in the current system of pharmacist education and training. It plays a key part in providing assurance to patients and the public that pharmacists have the knowledge and skills needed to practise safely and effectively.’

Mr Rudkin also said that the regulator had already received over 1500 applications from candidates to sit the exam in March and was confident it could hold ‘robust and fair sittings that are as safe as possible for candidates in Pearson Vue’s Covid-secure test centres’.

He added: ‘We would stress to candidates that they should use their judgement when deciding whether to sit the assessment in March and should only sit if they feel fit to do so, bearing in mind they could decide to sit in the summer.’