Reflecting on changes to the registration assessment

25 May 2021

On 29 April, around 2600 pharmacist trainees and provisionally registered pharmacists found out the results of the registration assessment which they sat in March. Just over 88 percent of those achieved the standard they needed to pass and were able to move on to the next stage of their career as a registered pharmacist.

Getting to the point of feeling ‘fit to sit’ the registration assessment represents a huge achievement for all the candidates who sat, many of whom have had quite different experiences of training, working and preparing to sit than they may have expected when they started the pre-registration year, before the pandemic began.

The registration assessment was also a significant challenge for us as an organisation, and one of the areas of our work which was most affected by the pandemic. As the process for this cohort draws to a close, we have also been taking time to reflect on how well we met the objectives we set for ourselves and what we can do better to improve the experience of those sitting in July and November.

It became obvious to us very quickly in Spring 2020 that the usual format of several hundred pre-registration trainees sitting the assessment in large venues was not going to be possible under social distancing restrictions. With input from stakeholders including representatives of pharmacy employers, training organisations and students and trainees, we identified key objectives to guide us in putting in place a new pathway to registration, and to help us approach the considerable logistical issues of holding a robust assessment that met our standards.

These objectives included supporting the NHS and all sectors of pharmacy by strengthening the workforce, maintaining standards for entry to the register to protect patient safety and the quality of care, and safeguarding the welfare of students and trainees.

Introducing provisional registration was the first important step in meeting these objectives, and we were able to put this in place relatively quickly, so that trainees could carry on providing patient care, with some important safeguards in place.

The second step was to focus on delivering the registration assessment sittings in a new way. We worked to investigate options to deliver a robust assessment, learn from other regulators and education organisations’ experiences and carry out a procurement process.

We did not have an outcome for some time, and we appreciate that trainees who were waiting anxiously to know what they would be asked to do would have felt reassured by more regular updates, even if those were to say that work was still in progress.

Once we had identified a supplier, we started to put in place the application process and confirm the details of how the sitting would take place. As well as making sure that candidates knew what they would practically need to do, we also needed to make sure that the registration assessment was a robust and accurate test of trainees’ skills and knowledge. If we were to hold an assessment, it was important that we gave candidates a fair opportunity to meet the same standard as previously.

We know that we did not get everything in this process right. Undoubtedly some of the elements, such as the booking process and the arrangements for overseas candidates, contributed to an already stressful and uncertain situation for some trainees. We are sorry for this.

While we achieved the overall objective of holding an online assessment which maintained standards and enabled the majority of eligible candidates to sit, there are a number of lessons to be learned from this challenging exercise. We have carried out a review to identify these lessons, which will be considered by our Council, and we are applying these to preparations for the July and November sittings.

I would like to congratulate everyone who has passed the assessment; it is great to see them being able to move forward in the careers and take up roles providing much needed patient care.