The provisional register will be extended until January 2022 to ‘mitigate some of the issues’ delayed exam sittings may cause, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has announced.

In an update last week (12 March), the regulator also confirmed the dates of the delayed summer and autumn assessments, which will be held on three days between 27 and 29 July 2021, and on 16 November 2021.

The exams are normally held in June and September, but both have been pushed back this year so ‘Pearson VUE test centres can accommodate the predicted number of candidates under the current social distancing guidelines’, the GPhC said.

The regulator added that this means that candidates who pass the summer assessment can join the register on 15 September 2021 at the earliest, while autumn candidates can join from 15 January 2022.

The provisional register has therefore been extended to mitigate the impact the delayed registration assessments may have on trainees, provisionally registered candidates and employers – who the regulator said would have been expecting newly-qualified pharmacists to join the register from August 2021.

The extension will ‘enable trainees from the 2020/21 cohort to apply to join the provisional register once their training is satisfactorily completed, so that they can take up offers of employment at the same time as they usually would, from 1 August 2021,’ the GPhC added.

Pandemic impact

Provisional registration was introduced earlier this year in response to the Covid-19 pandemic to allow trainees to put their education and training into practice and support NHS services.

The same eligibility criteria – of first successfully completing 52 weeks of training – will apply to those wanting to join the provisional register in 2021, the GPhC said.

‘We hope this will mitigate some of the issues that delays to the registration assessment sittings may cause to trainees, employers and pharmacy services,’ it added.

The extension will also allow for current provisionally-registered pharmacists who want to sit the exam later in the year ‘to continue working in their current roles until they receive their registration assessment results’, and gives current trainees the option to work as a provisionally registered pharmacist up until January 2022, if they decide not to sit until November.

This comes as some candidates reported last month that they had struggled to book their pre-registration exam at a test centre near to where they lived, due to slots booking up ‘within minutes’ of going live.

Students also criticised the regulator after they booked afternoon exam slots via the booking system, only to find out later that these sittings did not actually exist.

‘Hugely valuable contribution’

Acknowledging the achievements of the cohort so far, Duncan Rudkin, GPhC chief executive, said that pre-registration pharmacy trainees and provisional pharmacists have ‘risen to the challenge of dealing with a range of unprecedented circumstances’.

‘They have made a hugely valuable contribution to providing pharmacy series and delivering patient care during the pandemic, in all areas of pharmacy practice, and we are grateful for all the work they have done,’ he said.

‘We understand that holding the sittings in July and November will have an impact on pre-registration trainees, provisionally-registered pharmacists and employers. Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to be a significant factor in the logistics of holding assessment sittings and has meant that earlier dates are simply not feasible.'

Mr Rudkin added: ‘We regret any challenges this may cause and we hope that extending provisional registration will help mitigate these challenges for trainees and employers. This will also help give potential candidates further options when deciding when they feel fit to sit, depending on their individual circumstances.’