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GPhC: COVID-19 accelerated existing plans to move pre-reg exam online

The GPhC has said it was already considering moving the pre-registration exam online before the COVID-19 outbreak, but the pandemic “brought forward” its decision.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) would have explored “the online option for the future… [even] if the pandemic had not been happening”, CEO Duncan Rudkin told C+D yesterday (May 27).

Holding the pre-reg exam online was already being considered as a way to improve the “efficiency of the exam process in the longer run”, and the COVID-19 challenge “brought that forward into our thinking”, Mr Rudkin said during a call to discuss the regulator’s policy on the provisional registration of pre-reg trainees.

He added that an online assessment would help the GPhC “address travel issues” and other “practical logistical issues” some pre-reg trainees face with the way the exam is traditionally sat.

The GPhC was planning to make a decision on moving to an online assessment as part of its Strategic plan 2020-25, but the pandemic accelerated that process, a spokesperson further clarified to C+D yesterday.

“Robust” online assessment

GPhC director of education and standards Mark Voce, who was also on yesterday’s call, told C+D that the GPhC has “deliberately decided not to specify a date” for the online exam, as it first needs to ensure the exam is “as robust as it possibly can be”.

The online assessment – for which the GPhC has launched a procurement exercise – must offer the same guarantee of competence as the traditional setting, “because ultimately that's the assurance we need to get to the public”, Mr Voce said.

Mr Rudkin added that the GPhC will need to make adjustments for people who have “particular needs or disabilities” to ensure the online assessment is fair.

Larger venues

The GPhC understands the concerns of pre-reg trainees regarding the assessment and is ensuring it is “providing enough information and notice to people about the nature of the exam,” Mr Voce said.

Some larger venues in which social distancing would be possible where the exam could be held might be “back in operation in a few months’ time”, Mr Voce added.

But the current level of uncertainty and the prospect of a second wave of COVID-19 and the travel restrictions that might be introduced with it mean “we feel the online option is the right thing to do”, he said.

The GPhC announced its decision to postpone the  2020 registration assessments on March 26. Last week (April 29), it said the pre-reg trainees who will be allowed to join its provisional register from August need to sit the registration exam “at the first opportunity if they are fit to do so”.

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