The British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA) has called for changes to be made in how future pharmacists are assessed, after hundreds of trainees complained about the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC) June 2015 registration assessment.
Collated from 479 emails from candidates and a small number of preregistration tutors, the BPSA has submitted a list of concerns to the GPhC in a report
presented on 13 July 2015.
According to candidates and tutors, questions in the June 2015 assessment papers did not reflect current practice and some questions demanded an inappropriately high level of specialist clinical knowledge, the BPSA says. The time pressures associated with the open book examination raised concerns among trainees, who also claim that the registration assessment syllabus was vague or misleading. There was also a lack of suitable practice questions for preregistration trainees before the assessment, they say.
Daniel Greenwood, the BPSA’s graduate officer — who also sat the assessment — produced the report. “Given the number of complaints received by the BPSA, a significant number of those who completed the assessment feel its content was not reflective of day-to-day practice, particularly with respect to clinical aspects,” he says. “This suggests that the assessment may be pushing ahead of current training provision.”
More should be done to address the disparity between training providers, argues the BPSA, which supports increased regulation of providers.
Following candidates’ feedback, the BPSA has made 18 recommendations to the GPhC, covering: the types of questions asked; the amount of time allowed for answering questions; the suitability of test centres; the use of double negatives within questions; and the use of brand names rather than non-proprietary drug names. The BPSA also wants the GPhC to ensure that questions reflect current practice and to provide more practice questions.
The GPhC says patient safety is its number one priority. “The registration assessment is an important way of ensuring that only pharmacy professionals who are suitable to qualify can join the register,” it says. “Each assessment is therefore carefully set so that only the candidates who demonstrate the required knowledge and understanding can pass and be eligible for registration.”
The council also points out that the board of assessors for the registration examination — comprising nine pharmacists and two lay members — operates independently from the GPhC. The board evaluates the sitting after each assessment, with trainees’ opinions considered as part of this evaluation, but these views have to be balanced against the maintenance of standards, says the GPhC.
From an employer’s perspective, Aamer Safdar, principal pharmacist lead for education and development at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, says he has confidence in the registration assessment. “Where questions are answered poorly by candidates, the GPhC reviews these to ensure fairness to the trainees,” he says. “The spread of the syllabus means that some questions will be more challenging for some students, depending on the sector in which they did their training.”
Mark Donaghy, professional development manager for Kamsons Pharmacy, a chain of around 50 pharmacies, says the company’s preregistration trainees were distraught after the June 2015 assessment.
“I have heard stories of candidates being in tears at the end of it,” he says. “Even more alarming is that one of our preregistration trainees received an email from the GPhC stating that she had not turned up for the exam when she definitely did sit it.”
According to Donaghy, over the past ten years preregistration trainees have become increasingly focused on passing the exam. “It distracts so greatly from what should be a year of concentrating on meeting the performance standards,” he says.
From 2016, the registration assessment will take on a new format, with a more clinical focus, after revisions were announced by the GPhC in December 2014.
“With the new exam format next June and the concerns about this year’s exam, it will make it even more difficult for me to convince our new preregistration trainees that the exam is just one small part of their training year,” says Donaghy.
The pass rate for the June 2015 assessment will be published on 24 July 2015, alongside the names of successful candidates. Previous GPhC June registration assessment pass rates were 85.3% (2014), 78.0% (2013), 94.5% (2012) and 85.5% (2011). The board of assessors will report to the GPhC on the June 2015 registration assessment in September 2015.