COVID 19 has had an unprecedented impacted all of our lives. From standing in long queues just to buy milk to not being able to leave the house if you are high risk, times really have changed. Pharmacy teams across the country are under enormous pressure which has only been made worse by the lack of recognition, the increase in abuse we face on a daily basis and being forced to open on 3 bank holidays.
Pre-regs are important members of the frontline team whos futures have been derailed by this. As a pre-reg, I can definitely say that I come home everyday from work so exhausted that I literally have no brain power left to do anything, let alone revise. Which is why I was glad to hear the GPHC announce that the assessment was postponed. Although I and many of my colleagues had wished that we would be treated the same as doctors and nurses (the other frontline healthcare professionals) and be fast tracked onto the register, this did not happen. The GPHC’s reasoning: we don't have the same career framework as doctors and nurses.
The GPHC then announced the possibility of a provisional register to solve all the problems that would be faced by missing a whole cohort of newly qualified pharmacists. In principle this sounded like a good idea, until they announce the policy on 21st May which stated:
‘To join the register, trainees must have:
been awarded a GPhC-accredited Master of Pharmacy (MPharm) degree or Overseas Pharmacists’ Assessment Programme (OSPAP)
successfully completed 52 weeks pre-registration training in 2020
not previously failed the registration assessment
self-declared that they are fit to practise as a pharmacist; that they have read and understood the parameters within which they must practise if their application is successful; and undertake to do so
received a final declaration from their tutor confirming that they have met all the performance standards and are safe to be registered provisionally’
There are several issues with this policy. The major one is blocking re-sitters from joining the register. Many feel that this is a completely unfair and discriminatory policy which was made to penalise re-sitters. There are many difficult circumstances that have lead to pre-regs failing their previous sitting including family problems, inadequate training sites or unsupportive tutors. These students were also one of the first year groups to go through the Oriel process, which meant students may have ended up in training site which weren't in their top choices. Speaking as a re-sitter, I feel that we are being punished for things that aren’t in our control. Re-sitters would have completed their 52 week training time, submitted their final declaration and sent all the required documentation to the GPHC. However, the GPHC’s reasoning: protecting the integrity of the register. I believe we all deserve further clarity on what they mean by this.
Another question that needs answering is what about those that completed in their training in 2019 but their first sitting would have been in June 2020. Will these students be allowed onto the register?
The second part of the announcement was that provisionally registered pharmacists can not locum. This would be a major problem for the pre-regs who planned to go into locuming or have not been able to secure a job for august and were hoping to use this as a backup plan. What support will these pre-regs be given? Another question is how do we know the ones that are registered will be treated and paid appropriately? The GPHC have confirmed that more information regarding employment will come out in June so hopefully they will shed some light on this.
The third part of the announcement was the confirmation of an online exam. Hooray! Finally some news about the assessment. So when is it I hear you ask? Unfortunately we all have to hold our breath until the GPHC can find a secure way of doing the exam online. Once this happens they will give a minimum of 2 months notice. Good luck trying to get study time from your employer with such short notice.
As many people are aware, Ireland announced that they would be holding the exam in August, which begs me to ask the question why can’t the GPHC do the same? Now we have a lingering cloud over our head for the next 6 months. I have heard many arguments against an online exam saying that it will be to easy to cheat. However, in previous assessments you were allowed to use the BNF in the exam, surely they should revert back to this for the online exam to ensure fairness in the process.
Many people are concerned and rightly so about the pre-regs who will be provisionally registered and then fail the exam and be removed from the register. It will be heart-breaking for these people and I really hope the GPHC has considered the anxiety that will occur as a result of this.
No one knows the full impact of this decision and the effect it will have on this cohort, but one thing is clear, pre-regs deserve better than this. All I would like from the GPHC is to treat all pre-regs the same. I don’t think that is a hard ask. Do you?
Author: J Shah