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'GPhC treatment of my student cohort has been despicable'

The GPhC handling of the pre-registration exam this year has been unfair, unsafe and careless, says Imani Asi

I would like to highlight the concerns that many in my cohort have with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC)’s handling of this year’s exam, whose attempts at support have alienated each of us every day the exam has edged closer.

The way in which my cohort has been treated has been despicable. Ridiculously, those who had failed the pre-registration exam before the COVID-19 pandemic were not allowed to register as provisional pharmacists, despite having shown some level of competence in comparison with those who had never sat an exam.

Many like myself worked throughout the past year on the frontline of pharmacy on minimum wage as dispensers who were treated like an extra pharmacist – albeit one who could not check prescriptions – able to provide advice and help with other services. This is not to detract from those prov-regs who have also struggled with being overworked with a lack of support.

The GPhC says it acts to “uphold public confidence”. How confident are they in those prov-regs that have never been examined? How confident will the public be to know that they might have been looked after by a prov-reg who could fail the exam and no longer practise until the next sitting? The regulator's responses and actions are contradictory.

The rollout of information and resources was far too late. We only received sample questions mere weeks before the exam was scheduled to take place. There was an unfair system of applying to sit the exam, as those who didn't receive the email early in the day missed out on a place at a test centre in their hometown. This is not to mention those overseas students who have suffered due to the poor handling of this exam.

There was no email to give us a clear guide as to how the application of slots were being allocated. Now, many like myself will have to travel further, when anxiety is at an all-time high because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us don't feel comfortable being in another city and having to book hotels.

You would think that, this being a clinical pharmacy exam, there would be more of an indication of how we are able to keep safe in the testing centre. The GPhC claims the test centres are “COVID-secure”, despite not requiring candidates to test negative for the virus before entering, when many cases are known to be asymptomatic.

It feels like the entire responsibility of ensuring we are safe to sit the papers has been placed on students by the GPhC. What if we are sat in a room with someone who may not know they have COVID-19 and then we catch it? I live with highly vulnerable parents, should I not be concerned with returning home after being surrounded by students from different households?

There were numerous other ways the GPhC could have assessed us over the past year, such as being accounted for by our previous tutors or having online long-term assessments completed at home. Every pharmacist I speak to does not see how sitting two papers consecutively accurately assures that that student will be a competent pharmacist.

Those of us who are on our third exam attempt have contributed to the frontline of healthcare during a pandemic. But should we fail this time, the GPhC has not answered the question of whether it would consider giving us another shot at passing. It has been so long since our second attempt and the new exam is in an entirely different format. How much pressure do you think that puts on an individual?

My final chance at becoming what I have spent years working on could be over, just like that, with no compassion or sense of reasoning. The GPhC has let us down. It does not seem to care for the individual students and should not be run by the people who are in charge.

Read the apology from GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin for the issues with the exam 

Imani Asi is a pre-registration student based in North West England

In response to this blog, the GPhC pointed out how it asks students in its exam guidance not to attend the test centre if they have tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous 10 days

A version of this letter has been sent to the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care

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