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'Chaos' as some prov-regs told to travel 100s of miles to sit exam

Some pre and provisionally registered pharmacists will have to travel hundreds of miles to sit the March registration exam, they claim, after a “chaotic” booking process yesterday.

Pre and provisionally registered pharmacists looking to sit the March registration exam were invited by email yesterday (February 25) to book their assessment slot with Pearson VUE.

However, several candidates took to social media to report issues with the “chaotic” booking process, including not receiving their invitation to book a slot until late in the day, at which point there were no places left to reserve.

Others reported not being able to book a slot at a test centre near them, but instead being offered places several miles away.

Some candidates in Scotland were reportedly told they would have to travel to test centres in Wales, Newcastle, Carlisle and the Isle of Mann to sit the registration assessment in March, as there were no available places in the country.

In a statement to C+D this afternoon (February 26), the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) said: “We know that some candidates have experienced issues when booking their place for the registration assessment. We are very sorry for the worry and anxiety this has caused and we would like to reassure these candidates that we are working hard with Pearson VUE to identify how we can resolve these issues.

“The vast majority of candidates across England, Scotland and Wales have been able to book a test centre, with 2,705 having successfully registered their places so far,” it added.

See more of the GPhC’s response below.

Candidates “have to break travel restrictions”

Candidates have said they are “not comfortable” travelling so far to sit the assessment during the pandemic, “risking [their] health and others” by getting public transport and breaking travel restrictions.

Some who have been successful in booking a slot have also claimed some test centres are offering sittings at different times: “This obviously means that people can share answers and cheat,” one prov-reg claimed.

An open letter to the GPhC authored by prov-reg pharmacist Josh Farrell, has been shared more than 140 times on Facebook and received hundreds of reactions and comments from fellow pre and prov-regs, as well as other pharmacy staff.

Mr Farrell told C+D that having logged in just 10 minutes after receiving his invitation to book, there were no exam slots available within a 50-mile radius of where he is currently living and working in Glasgow. He has now booked to travel back to his home city of Liverpool in order to sit the exam on March 17-18.

“Although I am technically breaking travel restrictions, I'm one of the lucky ones who could travel to somewhere else with accommodation,” he said.

“I have peers who are having to spend on travel and accommodation the night before the exam, or face having to travel the morning of. They're booked into Belfast, Newcastle, Cardiff, Middlesbrough with no links to those areas at all,” Mr Farrell claimed.

The GPhC told C+D that while it understands that some candidates “may have to travel further than they may have anticipated to sit the assessment…Pearson VUE test centres are COVID-secure and are complying with social distancing requirements to ensure the safety of candidates”.

“As a result, capacity at each centre is reduced, which explains why, unfortunately, some people will have to travel longer distances than they may wish to.”

Travelling to sit the assessment is deemed “an essential activity”, the GPhC said, so would not be in breach of lockdown restrictions.

“We do however recognise the challenges of travelling long distances and staying away from home during national lockdowns,” it added.

Scotland’s CPhO and pharmacy bodies step in

As the situation unfolded on Twitter yesterday, Scotland’s interim chief pharmaceutical officer Alison Strath responded to the Scottish pre and prov-regs and vowed to work with the GPhC to resolve the issues.

Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) director of education Gail Fleming assured concerned candidates that the organisation had also contacted the GPhC to raise its concerns.

Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) director of organising and engagement Collette Bradford said the union had written to the regulator for an explanation.

The GPhC continued: “We recognise that candidates in Scotland have faced particular challenges and some candidates have not yet been able to find a test centre within Scotland. We are urgently exploring all possible options with Pearson VUE to try to release more places within Scotland and will keep candidates updated on progress.

“For candidates that have booked to sit the assessment in a test centre that is a significant distance from their home, we will work with Pearson VUE to try and find a more convenient option, although we cannot guarantee this,” the GPhC concluded.

Ongoing issues impact on students and employers

The regulator announced in March last year that it had decided to postpone the 2020 registration assessment due to COVID-19. In May, it told C+D that the pandemic had accelerated existing plans to move to an online registration assessment.

Last week, candidates residing in countries with a time difference to the UK of two hours or more were told they will now be able to sit the March assessment remotely at home, after initially being told their exam would be cancelled partly due to the risk of the questions being shared among candidates sitting in different time zones.

Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) CEO Dr Leyla Hannbeck said the cross-sector workforce development group – of which she is a member – is in discussion with the GPhC about the ongoing registration issues pre and prov-reg pharmacists have faced during the pandemic.

This includes the impact on student morale and wellbeing, and the possible workforce shortages that any further registration delays or issues could cause.

She has also raised the issue with England’s chief and deputy chief pharmaceutical officers and the pharmacy dean of Health Education England, Dr Hannbeck told C+D.

Have you experienced issues in booking your online exam?

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