Why this overseas student had to withdraw from the pre-reg exam


In response to the following article:


“GPhC apologise and promise increased capacity for Scottish candidates”


Dear PIP Editor,


I am writing to you to highlight my experience as an overseas pre-registration student this year. I am afraid to say that the whole process has been handled very poorly.


I am an overseas pre-reg student who was supposed to take the 2020 pre-reg exam. The original plan was for me to do the Sep 2020 exam before returning to my home country to start my job in Oct 2020. When I found out the exam was delayed, I tried finding out when the new exam date will be by calling the GPhC every few weeks. Every time, I was told that exam preparations are underway and we would receive updates “soon”.


Since I was given the impression that we would soon be able to do the exam, I continuously postponed my new job’s start date, until mid-November. At this time I was told I had to start my new job or risk losing it, so I returned to my home country and began the job.


On 6th January 2021, we were informed that overseas candidates would be able to take the exam remotely.


However, the exam date was not confirmed. I wasn’t sure whether the remote exam would take place on the same day as the exam in the UK. Since I wanted to take study leave from my job, I needed to know when the exam would be, so I consistently contacted the GPhC, hoping to get a solid date for the exam.


Unfortunately, I was just told it would “likely take place around the same time as the UK exam”.


By end of January, we still hadn’t received any information, so I decided to take the entire month of March off, hoping that that would cover any possible dates for the remote exam. As a result, my project team at work had to restructure and assign new members to my project to cover me while I was gone.


All preparations were in place when suddenly on the 2nd February the GPhC u-turned on their decision and said overseas exams were cancelled. Because of this I then had to go through the entire process of cancelling my leave, which not only affected my mental health and wasted my time and efforts preparing for the exam but also affected my co-workers and my reputation at work.


Because I had already caused so much trouble to my current employers, when I was told the overseas exam was going to go ahead, after all, I had no choice but to withdraw from the exam. I did not want my project team to go through even more changes.


The main issues that come to mind can be summarized below:


  • Lack of communication.
  • Lack of planning and organization.
  • Lack of respect for pre-reg pharmacists.
  • U-turning on decisions (eg: the remote exam for overseas students)/ breaking promises.
  • Setting unrealistic goals and expectations for the exam, and then failing to meet the expectations.


Throughout 2020, instead of giving candidates empty updates such as “there will be updates soon” or “exam preparations are underway” which gave the impression that the exams could take place in the very near future, the GPhC should have been more transparent and admitted that the exam was likely going to take place in 2021.


They should have also set a more realistic timeframe for themselves instead of trying to rush the March exam. In my view, they were simply not prepared.


Under normal circumstances, I believe a standardised pre-reg exam should be done before the placement year instead of after. It is devastating that pre-registration students have to potentially waste an entire year doing the placement (during which many pre-regs suffer unfair treatment and pay at work) only to not get their license because they failed the pre-reg exam.


As for the 2020 pre-reg exam candidates such as myself, I believe this exam should be cancelled due to the GPhC’s horrible planning.


The GPhC’s terrible decisions have led to many of us developing anxiety and other mental health issues. It has also affected our ability to plan our revision for the exam, which will no doubt affect our performance. Furthermore, many of us have worked as provisional pharmacists for the past year, and have clearly demonstrated that we are capable of working as pharmacists.


The fact that we may no longer be able to do the job that we are currently already doing if we fail the exam, feels like a slap in the face.


It feels like the GPhC just uses us when they need extra hands during the pandemic, and then tosses us aside once they no longer need our help.


Yours etc.,




This student wishes to remain anonymous.



Has your life been impacted by the situation around the provisional registration process? We would really like to hear from you. If you answer the questions below and indicate that you give us permission we will publish your contribution as a letter to the editor.




GPhC say assessment is an ‘essential step’ towards registration


The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has responded to questions from candidates and stakeholders on the registration assessment, following the introduction of national lockdowns.


The GPhC has reiterated the importance of the registration assessment and reaffirmed their resolve to continue with the process.


Duncan Rudkin, Chief Executive of the GPhC, said:


“We have been carefully considering the impact of national lockdowns, and the extraordinary circumstances in which provisionally-registered pharmacists are working, on the registration assessment.


“We are very aware of the significant stress and pressures that candidates have experienced during the pandemic. We greatly appreciate their patience and the enormous contribution they are continuing to make to the care of patients and the public during this hugely challenging time.


“We want to make clear to candidates that our position remains that passing the registration assessment is an essential step towards full registration. We are committed to holding a robust and fair assessment for candidates at the earliest opportunity.


“The registration assessment is the most effective method to maintain standards for entry to the pharmacist register in the current system of pharmacist education and training. It plays a key part in providing assurance to patients and the public that pharmacists have the knowledge and skills needed to practise safely and effectively.


“It is not feasible to introduce alternative routes to registration for provisionally-registered pharmacists that would uphold standards, protect patient safety and be fair to all candidates.


“We are making good progress with preparations for the March sittings and have already received over 1500 applications from candidates to sit in March. We are confident we can hold robust and fair sittings that are as safe as possible for candidates in Pearson VUE’s COVID-secure test centres. Pearson VUE has confirmed their centres will remain open for essential healthcare examinations such as the registration assessment even if we are still in national lockdowns in March. We are keeping the situation under active review but are expecting that the sittings will go ahead as planned.


“We would stress to candidates that they should use their judgement when deciding whether to sit the assessment in March and should only sit if they feel fit to do so, bearing in mind they could decide to sit in the summer.


“We know that many candidates do want to sit in March, including candidates who were not eligible for provisional registration, so they have the opportunity to register and work as pharmacists at the earliest opportunity.


“Being ‘fit to sit’ means that a candidate knows of no reason why their performance would be adversely affected during the assessment, because of illness or other adverse circumstance. Candidates may decide they are not fit to sit for a wide range of reasons, including the impact that the pandemic has had on their health and well-being, or on their ability to prepare adequately for the assessment because of pressures at work or caring responsibilities at home.


“Candidates who do not feel fit to sit can instead decide to sit in the summer, and provisional registration will continue until candidates sitting in the summer receive their results. We are working with Pearson VUE to ensure additional capacity for the summer assessment and will confirm those dates shortly.


“We would also emphasise to candidates that they can withdraw at any time up until the assessment sitting begins if their circumstances change and they feel they are no longer fit to sit. If they do withdraw, that assessment sitting will not count as one of their attempts, and they will receive a refund of their assessment application fee.


“In these very difficult times, we all need to work together to do everything possible to support candidates and give them certainty and clear answers to their questions.  We recognise in particular that there are significant workforce challenges at the moment and are very grateful to employers and to pharmacy teams for all their efforts to support candidates and enable them to take study leave.”



Has your life been impacted by the situation around the provisional registration process? We would really like to hear from you. If you answer the questions below and indicate that you give us permission we will publish your contribution as a letter to the editor.



Further information about the registration assessment is available on applying to sit the registration assessment page of the GPhC website. The GPhC has said that they will continue to regularly update the web page with key information and with answers to questions from candidates.


This year has destroyed my mental health


I currently work as a provisionally registered pharmacist and to be honest this year has been horrendous.


My mental health has been destroyed.


I can hardly sleep at night, I keep weighing up the choice of going to work to earn for my family and sustain my self or stay at home and study for an exam that will assess suitability for a job I’m already doing.


I’m sorry but the chain of events around the registration process this year has been appalling. The entire process from beginning to end has been dreadful and the way we have been treated is disgusting. The GPHC has left us in such disarray due to the haphazard handling of the entire process.


We should have had the exam cancelled and an alternative form of registration. Perhaps a foundation or provisional year with a more intense learning procedure to ensure safety.


Instead, the GPHC has focussed on setting the usual exam for a cohort who have had an unusual learning experience. A pragmatic approach was required but unfortunately, they were not able to deliver.


The mental health ramifications for the cohort this year are unthinkable.


Patient safety is important but they have already let loose 2000 plus provisionally registered pharmacists. They should have instead supported these people with more clinical targets and calculations support.


But to further burden them at a time when pharmacy is under such pressure, understaffed and busy is just not right.


They have really said:


‘Work now and earn your money when we need you during the pandemic and soon when we won’t. We’ll then throw an exam at you with minimal revision time.’


It’s just not right.


Why can’t there be an alternative way of registering? Why can the GPHC not be pragmatic?


We are expected to maintain exam level knowledge whilst working through a busy pandemic to support our families and the public. We should be allowed to register this year without sitting an exam. Simple.


We have already been acting as full pharmacists. We should be supported in our roles to build on weaknesses. This cohort of students this year have had a unique learning experience compared to every pre-reg since 1992. They should therefore have a unique way of registering.


A pragmatic approach is required.


The author of this blog is a provisionally registered pharmacist and wishes to remain anonymous. 




Has your life been impacted by the situation around the provisional registration process? We would really like to hear from you. If you answer the questions below and indicate that you give us permission we will publish your contribution as a letter to the editor.





Resitters: The forgotten pre-registration pharmacist cohort


In response to the following article:


GPhC announce results of provisionally-registered pharmacist survey


Dear PIP editor,


I have a family member who has been affected by the delay of the pre-registration exam. He sat the exam last year and failed by only a couple of marks in the calculations part of the exam. The outcome of this exam may have been impacted by unexpected personal issues in his life just before the exam itself. He was very hopeful to be sitting the exam again this year and had invested more time into preparing for this only to find out it had been postponed.


Unlike the rest of the pre-registration pharmacists, he was unable to be provisionally registered due to failing a part of the exam by a couple of marks. This has not only set him back but also really affected his mental health knowing many other people is his position were practising and he was unable to with no clear date and answer as to when the exam will be held.


It is very upsetting for me to see how people like him and others in his position have been given no extra support or guidance. Most of the information provided is for the pharmacists with the provisional registrations.


I find this appalling.


Other councils such as the NMC and GMC have supported the students affected by the pandemic and tried to facilitate people of all circumstances.


More could be done to help.


There should be more clear guidance and regular updates about what is being done to support those who cannot practise as provisional pharmacists. There should also be more regular updates on what is being done to set a clear date for the exam. More support should be given to those who were not able to register provisionally for whatever reason.


Despite all this, I still think provisionally registered pharmacists should not be allowed to register this year without sitting an exam.


For someone that has previously failed the calculations exam by two marks, this situation needs to be remedied as soon as possible. His career means a lot to him. Therefore, watching people who are now able to practise with a provisional licence yet being unable to do the same himself is very distressing.


This has impacted my family member financially, and mentally. He has been set back in many ways. Family life at home has been affected and he is also financially worse off.


Yours etc.


The author of this letter is a nurse practitioner writing on behalf of a close family member with permission and wishes to remain anonymous.



Has your life been impacted by the situation around the provisional registration process? We would really like to hear from you. If you answer the questions below and indicate that you give us permission we will publish your contribution as a letter to the editor.





Northern Irish pre-reg results announced


132 pre-registration pharmacist trainees have passed the registration examination in Northern Ireland.


135 students sat the pre-registration exam in Northern Ireland on August 11th. The pass rate was up on 2019 but comparable with 2018.


Subject to being signed off by their pre-registration Tutor, the successful trainees will now join the register of Pharmaceutical Chemists and can practice pharmacy in Northern Ireland.


Dr Jim Livingstone, President of the Pharmaceutical Society NI, congratulated them on the achievement:


“Congratulations on your success.


“As you begin your career, take time to reflect on how much you have achieved so far through many years of study and preparation. You can be confident that you have already experienced some exceptional circumstances for healthcare in Northern Ireland and you should look forward to the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.


“As the new generation of pharmacists, your skill and vision will help shape the future of pharmacy in Northern Ireland and continue to set high standards of patient care.


“I welcome you onto the Register of the Pharmaceutical Society NI and wish you all success in your chosen path”.


Following the successful completion of the pharmacy registration examination in August, Jim Livingstone, President and Trevor Patterson, Chief Executive of the Pharmaceutical Society NI, have expressed their gratitude for the assistance of the Pharmacy Department and staff at the University of Ulster in Jordanstown and Coleraine and the Principal, Board of Governors and staff of Methodist College Belfast. Both organisations provided facilities and support to hold the examination under socially distanced requirements.


Jim Livingstone commented:


“On behalf of Council I want to thank the University of Ulster and Methodist College on the extraordinary effort of both organisations in taking their premises out of lockdown and providing us with on-site support to enable this important examination to take place. They have risen brilliantly to the challenges of Covid-19 and in doing so supported healthcare services in Northern Ireland now and for the future.“


Trevor Patterson commented:


“The Pharmaceutical Society NI is very grateful for the support given by the governing bodies and staff at the three venues, which enabled the holding of the Pharmacy registration examination in a safe, social distanced manner.


“Their support and professionalism have allowed us to ensure that the 132 successful candidates are now able to practice as qualified pharmacists, who can now supply high standards of patient care in Northern Ireland during the current pandemic”.




Provisionally registered pharmacists to receive 38k salary


Following the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC) recent update on provisional registration, LloydsPharmacy has begun to offer over 100 permanent roles across the UK, prioritising those already working in its network. The pharmacy multiple will be paying all pre-regs eligible for provisional registration a salary of £38,000, based on a 40-hour working week, as well as providing a ‘structured clinical support programme’ to help them deliver safe and effective care.


The GPhC has agreed to provisionally register eligible pre-regs after the registration assessments scheduled for June and September 2020 were postponed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, and the registration assessment is now expected to be held online.


To be eligible to join the pharmacist register on a provisional basis, pre-reg pharmacists must successfully meet a number of criteria and the regulator has said that structured support should be provided by their employer of choice, including access to a mentor.


The adapted programme will help develop those who are eligible for provisional registration this year through clinical learning and preparation for the assessment. This will include 30-minute lunchtime learning sessions, monthly clinical learning topics, with suggested study and quizzes to test knowledge and identify gaps, as well as a mock exam.


LloydsPharmacy will also be supporting its provisionally registered pharmacists by finding them a suitable mentor, as well as ensuring they have access to a support network.


Victoria Steele, deputy superintendent at LloydsPharmacy, said: 


We want to find a role for as many of our 150 pre-regs as possible. We’ll be matching them with our vacancies first but will also have positions for external pre-regs.”


“The new provisional registration and postponement of the exam has meant we’ve had to adapt the programme but the principles at the heart of it are all still important for provisional registration.


“When I think back to making that transition from pre-registration to practising pharmacist myself, it was a daunting experience for me and many of my peers, knowing that you are the person that is ultimately responsible for the safety of your patients.


“As a newly qualified pharmacist, there is still so much to learn and take in. We want to provide an extra layer of support and help develop our next generation of pharmacists from the very start of their career with us.”


“We want to set our provisionally registered pharmacists up to be great pharmacists, not just good ones by helping them develop skills such as leadership, decision making and professionalism. The more we can support and develop them, the better the service and expertise they can provide to our customers and patients.”   


“In addition to wanting our new pharmacists to feel supported, we also want them to feel valued, which is why we’ve made the decision for them to also benefit from our increased minimum rate of pay, of £18.50 per hour, that we announced in April of this year.”