Two years after its introduction in 2017, seems to be an appropriate time to assess Oriel, the centralised system for allocating UK pharmacist preregistration training placements.
Oriel replaced the Pharmalife application process and brought recruitment for pharmacy preregistration training under the same umbrella as medicine and dentistry. It has standardised recruitment across the UK, meaning MPharm student candidates looking for a preregistration placement need to complete a single application and select their preferred area of practice.
Despite these improvements, Oriel’s first year was not a resounding success. In 2017/2018, only 75% of pharmacy preregistration training places were filled and 53% of students rated their overall experience of the programme as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. In 2018/2019, the fill rate fell even further to 58%, although there were more places available that year. Oriel now enables candidates in England and Wales the choice of splitting their preregistration year between general practice, hospital and community pharmacy.
Nevertheless, it is still an arduous process to go through. Candidates in 2019 were required to review 2,578 pharmacy listings and rank them in order of preference. The Oriel applicant handbook advises candidates to rank at least 30 potential employers, but universities often recommend their students rank at least 100 potential employers to increase their chances of receiving an offer from a preferred training site.
As part of the Oriel process, individuals are also required to undergo three different assessments to test their numeracy skills, problem solving ability and response to various scenarios, but there is insufficient information available to help candidates prepare for these. There is great variation in the information provided by pharmacy schools and, often, students are forced to use practice questions designed for medicine or dentistry candidates to prepare.
This kind of disruption must have a negative impact on trainees’ performance
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society does offer a paid-for Oriel workshop for pharmacy students in London and there are resources on The Pharmaceutical Journal website, but the clear lack of official NHS information for candidates, including sample questions, is unacceptable.
Even more concerning is the minimal amount of information often given by the training providers in their job listings on Oriel. For example, The Pharmaceutical Journal examined 50 listings and more than half (29) failed to provide details of the training programme provided, while 48 did not include details of a specific person to contact should an applicant have any questions. This would not be acceptable in most job advertisements for most full-time roles, so why should it be acceptable on Oriel?
This lack of information has implications for the suitability of placements. In a blog post published by The Pharmaceutical Journal on 10 October 2019, newly registered pharmacist Diba Keyhanfar described her stressful experience with the system, recalling how she struggled to find information about training providers and eventually changed training sites three times.
Keyhanfar may not be the only one.
The Pharmaceutical Journal has obtained data under the Freedom of Information Act that show an increase in the number of preregistration trainees who changed sites during their training year, from 389 in 2016 to 412 in 2017, with most transfers occurring within community pharmacy.
The motivation behind each transfer could be for several reasons, but this kind of disruption is likely to have a negative impact on trainees’ performance, both during the training placement itself and in the preregistration exam.
At the moment, candidates are having to place blind trust in the Oriel process, but this too is unacceptable. The whole process requires more transparency. It should be made mandatory for all providers to include a detailed job description and an outline of their training programme in their Oriel listing. All listings should also provide clear evidence of how the provider meets training and performance standards; the support and benefits package offered; and, perhaps most importantly, direct contact details of a designated person for more information.
Every trainee deserves to be given the best training experience possible — one that adequately prepares them, not only for the assessment centre but for life as a competent pharmacist. This starts before the first day of preregistration training — the process can improve to enable this.
- This article was corrected on 5 November 2019. The article originally said that 62% of pharmacy preregistration training places were filled in 2017 and 90% were filled in in 2019, but these figures were incorrect. In 2017/18 the fill rate was 75% (1,625 filled versus 2,161 available) and, in 2018/2019, the fill rate was 58% (1,685 filled versus 2,881 available). We apologise for any confusion caused by this.