A group of trainee pharmacists is organising a protest outside the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) headquarters following ‘inconsistent and unfair’ registration exams last week, as the GPhC has said candidates can appeal their sitting.

The protest is due to take place on 13 July at 11am at 25 Canada Square in London after candidates were severely impacted by delays at the registration exam sitting on 29 June, with delays due to IT or other technical issues reported at some centres.

Further complaints have been reported, including inadequate invigilation; insufficient breaks between papers; examination rooms being unfit for purpose; confusion over the use of calculators; and reasonable adjustments agreed for candidates with disabilities not being provided.

Speaking to The Pharmacist, one of the protest organisers – who chose to remain anonymous – said the GPhC has been ‘unfair to us in all aspects of this exam from booking to delivering to actual exam content’ and criticised the body for only recognising issues with delays, which took place ‘in a handful of centres’.

They called on the GPhC to drop the grade boundaries ‘to reflect the difficulty of the exam’, not count the exam as an attempt to pass for those who failed and ‘provide solutions’ for trainees who sat the exam for the third time in this sitting or whose sitting limit ran out this year.

‘For some people this was their third and final attempt and [they] feel they no longer have anything left to show for their degree,’ they explained.

They added: ‘GPhC really must acknowledge the severity of the situation. After this exam, which did not reflect the framework set out by GPhC at all, students have been left traumatised. Their mental health has taken a significant toll.’

A GPhC spokesperson said: ‘We respect people’s rights to peacefully protest and express their views. We also want to hear the views of candidates who sat the last registration assessment. We have emailed all candidates directly with a link to a survey which we would encourage them to complete in order to give their feedback.’

Approximately 2,700 candidates sat the assessment in 113 test centres across the UK, which were managed by private company the BTL Group. BTL had replaced the previous supplier, Pearson Vue, after there were issues with previous sittings.

Candidates can appeal

In an additional statement released yesterday evening, the GPhC said has said candidates who wish to nullify or appeal a sitting should submit their request by today (6 July).

The body is advising candidates who feel they were significantly affected by a procedural issue relating to how the assessment was held, such as a delay or other technical issue, to wait for their results and then appeal, if they were unsuccessful in this sitting.

The pharmacy regulator has already confirmed that candidates who experienced severe delays will have their assessment fees refunded in full, and 'the severe delay will be automatically accepted as grounds for appeal if they do not pass'.

This means that if candidates do not pass the assessment, this sitting will not count as one of their attempts to pass.

The GPhC also previously confirmed those severely impacted by delays who were not able to pass the sitting will be offered provisional registration – providing they meet ‘certain eligibility criteria'

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has called on the GPhC to publish a clear mitigation plan and risk register for the November 2022 sitting.

Candidates provisionally registered will be able to remain on the provisional register from 1 August 2022 until 1 February 2023 and work as a provisionally registered pharmacist while they wait for the next sitting.

PDA urges feedback

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has called on candidates to ensure they feed back to the GPhC or the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland about their experience.

It has also invited them to inform the PDA so that the organisation can determine what reasonable individual, collective or even legal action may be possible to support those who have been disadvantaged.

The PDA also called for an independent review involving the Professional Standards Authority and for candidates to be compensated for any disadvantage as an ‘immediate priority’.

The organisation said: ‘Given the issues experienced previously, having a resit exam ready would have meant that disadvantaged candidates could be offered an alternative sitting soon to minimise the time between last week’s sitting and an opportunity to put right the problems.

‘If a decision was made not to have such a contingency in place, then such an exam needs to be developed without delay and, if necessary, held using a traditional paper-based exam if that is the only way to guarantee no repetition of the issues.’

Collette Bradford, PDA director of organising and engagement, said: ‘The PDA understand the anxiety and distress caused by the difficulties experienced by some members at the assessment sitting last week. We are listening to all members’ experiences and reading every email and message we receive. A member of the PDA team will reply to each email as soon as possible.

‘We will also take all your views to our meetings with the regulator to ensure your voice and experience is heard. We are also considering what options are available to support members further at this challenging time.

‘The regulator needs to ensure that future pharmacy online examinations are a proficient, robust and positive experience for all candidates.’

Support available

Charity Pharmacist Support has a range of wellbeing-related information and resources on their website, the GPhC has previously said.

For those suffering from depression, anxiety or other psychological issues, the charity also has a confidential counselling service, while support is also available from The Samaritans.

The GPhC has also signposted the Listening Friend Peer Support Service.

Last year, some candidates reported that they had struggled to book a place at a test centre near to where they lived due to slots booking up ‘within minutes’ of going live.