Arrangements for candidates taking the registration assessment overseas will be “confirmed much earlier” ahead of future sittings in 2021 than they were ahead of the March 2021 exam, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has said.
In January 2021, 69 candidates living in countries with a six-hour or more time difference were told that they would not be able to sit the March 2021 exam in their home country, before the regulator amended its decision later that month to allow candidates to sit the exam remotely.
In papers published ahead of a GPhC council meeting on 2 June 2021, the regulator admitted that it had made incorrect assumptions early in the planning process about how overseas candidates could sit the March exam.
These included assuming that test centres in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia could stay open outside of their usual hours and that candidates could remain inside the test centre, with a chaperone, until UK-based candidates had started their assessment.
This was the first time the assessment could be offered overseas, the GPhC papers said, owing to the “online nature of the planned sittings”.
The regulator told The Pharmaceutical Journal that it has not made a firm decision about the format of the registration assessment beyond the exams in summer and autumn 2021 but said that one option would be online using test centres.
In total, 80 overseas candidates applied to sit the exam, with Pearson Vue offering “test centres either owned directly or operated through third parties in all the countries where overseas candidates were based”.
However, the council papers added that an “issue had been identified early in the process” relating to candidates sitting the exam in countries where the time difference is more than six hours, as the regulator “did not believe it would have been appropriate for some candidates to start the assessment after others had finished”.
The papers said the GPhC “did not focus attention at an early enough stage to confirm” its assumptions around how this would be resolved.
“Once we did so, Pearson Vue advised that it was not possible for the test centres to remain open for longer hours due to contractual requirements with their third-party operators,” the papers said.
“And, based on legal advice, we concluded that it would not be appropriate to require people to remain at test centres once they had finished the assessment.”
Instead, the paper revealed that the regulator identified “a workaround whereby the GPhC could manually amend individual slots for remote sittings so that the overseas candidates were able to sit at the same time as UK candidates”.
Following a review of the lessons learned, the regulator said it would “ensure arrangements for overseas candidates are confirmed much earlier in the process to allow issues to be identified and resolved” ahead of the registration assessments in summer and autumn 2021.
The GPhC papers also said that, ahead of the July 2021 sitting of the registration assessment, it will “undertake a detailed mapping exercise based on the addresses of candidates and the availability of test centres prior to the booking process”.
This is in response to several candidates in Scotland initially finding that they could not book at an assessment centre in Scotland, although additional test centre capacity was later added for affected candidates.
The regulator added that while it had provided short updates to candidates every four to six weeks, during the procurement phase of organising the assessment it “could have done more in this phase to contact candidates more regularly to explain the issues we were seeking to resolve and provide greater opportunities for them to engage with us”.
The GPhC said it is now “in a position to provide more regular updates for candidates and will be issuing communications on a clear schedule”.