Three candidates who were unable to complete the July 2021 sitting of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) registration assessment because of a technical problem have been told they will have to wait until November 2021 before they can sit the examination again.
The affected candidates all sat the examination on 29 July 2021 at the Pearson Vue assessment centre in Redditch, Worcestershire. One of the candidates, Reema Khattam, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that the first of the two papers — the calculations exam — passed without incident but when she tried to start the clinical assessment paper, she “was staring at a blank screen”.
The affected candidates were asked to sit in a waiting area while staff tried to fix the issue, Khattam said. After one and a half hours of waiting, the candidates were told that that the problem could not be solved and they could not sit the exam that day.
Khattam said she had been told by the GPhC that her only option was to sit the assessment again — not just the paper that was affected, but both papers — in November 2021.
“All the stress and all the anxiety that you go through on the night of the exam — you’re unable to sleep, you just want to finish your exam and be free — all that just literally resulted in nothing,” Khattam said.
“We wanted the GPhC to resolve the situation as quickly as possible; we wanted them to allow us to finish sitting the exam, and not wait until November and redo everything again. But they said they are unable to do this, and they explained in detail why they cannot do it.
“So the first question that comes to your mind, as a human being with common sense, is: why didn’t the GPhC have a contingency plan for when technology fails? What I went through is something that I don’t wish on any other student who is sitting the registration assessment.”
The registration assessment was moved online by the GPhC as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the regulator is now tendering for a contract to provide a computer-based registration exam for the next three years.
The RPS has written to the GPhC asking it to provide a “fairer solution” for the affected candidates as well as providing “any appropriate compensation”.
The “lack of a timely resolution”, the letter says, “is not what we would expect of our regulator”.
“There is an apparent lack of any adequate contingency plan for IT failure of this type. There does not appear to be an understanding of the significant impact on [the candidates’] wellbeing, compounded by a demonstrable financial cost.
“It is deeply disappointing that the GPhC has not been able to offer a better alternative to sitting both papers (including the one sat without issue this time) in November and do not seem to be currently working on improved solutions.”
The GPhC issued a statement on 30 July 2021 apologising for the technical problems and said it understood “how distressing this has been for [candidates]”. A spokesperson for the GPhC confirmed to The Pharmaceutical Journal that three candidates, rather than the four initially referred to in the statement, were unable to sit paper 2.
“We have been in touch with these trainees and their employer to apologise for what has happened. We are refunding the fees to sit the assessment to these trainees, and will not charge them for the next sitting and are reviewing what other steps may be possible to help them,” the spokesperson said.
“We are working with Pearson Vue to investigate exactly what happened on this occasion and prevent similar issues occurring in subsequent sittings.”