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How to Appeal to the GPhC having failed the Pre-Registration Assessment

25 Oct 2019

The day you receive your results for the pre-registration assessment should be a happy day when all the years of hard work, financial commitment, blood, sweat and tears finally pay off and you find out that you have passed the exam and will be able to register with the GPhC and fulfil your ambition to practise as a pharmacist.

Unfortunately, for a significant number of pre-registration students, they receive the bad news that they have failed the exam. Particularly for those, who find themselves having failed their third (and usually final) attempt at the pre-registration assessment, this can be devastating.

If you find yourself having failed your attempt at the pre-registration assessment, you can appeal against this result. However, it is important to note that the GPhC has very narrow, strict criteria outlining the very limited circumstances in which you can appeal against a fail result, unfortunately, it is not sufficient to just be unhappy with your result and feel that this is unfair.

Grounds for Appealing to the GPhC

The Registration Assessment Regulations stipulate that a pre-registration student can appeal against their fail result on one, or both, of the following grounds only:

  1. That the GPhC failed to correctly apply the Registration Assessment procedure; and/or
  2. There are exceptional circumstances, unique to you, that affected your performance during the exam, but were not known, and could not have been known, to you before or during the exam.

In reality, very few appeals are successfully submitted on procedural grounds, as the GPhC have been running the registration assessment for many years, utilising experienced invigilators and dealing with any issues by allowing more time during the sitting if, for instance, there is an interruption to explain or alter a question, or by discounting a question when marking the exam, if a question is found to be flawed due to a change in guidance or legislation, for example.

The majority of appeals, therefore, tend to be submitted on the grounds of exceptional circumstances.

Submitting an Appeal to the GPhC

Your appeal must be submitted in writing, by email, to the GPhC, within 21 days of the date on your results letter. You must complete an official appeal form and also send any documentation and evidence to support your appeal, with this.

Supporting evidence is vital to a successful appeal. As already mentioned, the GPhC is very strict about the criteria upon which you can appeal, and of course, evidence that supports your particular circumstance, ideally from a medical or another relevant professional, can be very persuasive in confirming your particular circumstance and endorsing the position that these circumstances affected your performance in the exam and significantly affected your ability to make the judgment that you were fit to sit the exam.

Were you ‘Fit to Sit’?

The vast majority of appeals that are denied by the GPhC fail because the GPhC concludes that the student was ‘fit to sit’ the registration assessment. The Registration Assessment Regulations clearly outline that it is a pre-registration student’s responsibility to ensure that they do not sit the assessment unless they are fit to do so, i.e. that they do not know of any reason why their performance could be adversely affected during the exam.

Common circumstances, which are not accepted by the GPhC as grounds for appeal, as they consider that you should have decided that you were not ‘fit to sit’ and withdrawn from the exam, as these circumstances would have been known to you before the exam, include:

  • Falling ill or having an accident in the run-up to, or on the day of, the assessment before starting the assessment;
  • Experiencing travel difficulties on your way to the assessment;
  • The serious illness or death of a close friend or family member in the run-up to the assessment;
  • Financial or other personal, relationship problems;
  • Not feeling adequately supported by your pre-registration tutor.

 

Nullification

If you fall ill or experience any other adverse circumstances during the assessment to the extent that you feel you cannot continue, or your performance is affected, you should inform an invigilator immediately during the assessment. The invigilator will complete a report and provide you with a copy of this, which you should then submit to the GPhC with your request that your assessment attempt be nullified, within 5 working days of the exam.

It is important to note that an illness or adverse circumstance known to you, on or before the exam, cannot be used as grounds for nullification. Equally, any exceptional circumstances, which could have formed grounds for nullification, will not be considered as grounds for an appeal.

Pre-Registration Time Limits

The GPhC stipulates that each pre-registration student should successfully complete their initial pharmacy education and training and apply to register with the GPhC within 8 years from the date on which they commenced their MPharm degree. This may seem like plenty of time, but increasingly pre-registration students who have failed one or more attempts at the assessment, and particularly those with young families who have perhaps had to take a break in their education and training, find themselves close to, or at, this limit, when they then fail their third attempt at the pre-registration assessment.

It is, of course, perfectly understandable that after years of working towards your aim of being a pharmacist, most pre-registration students are singularly focussed on sitting and passing the assessment. However, it is our experience, that the pressure of the approaching time limit for registration is not generally considered by the GPhC to be a valid ground of appeal against a fail result. It is therefore worth noting that the GPhC do allow extensions to the 8-year time limit in exceptional circumstances and we advise that you contact the GPhC if you feel you may have exceptional circumstances, to discuss this in advance of the assessment.

Appeal Outcomes

Your appeal is considered by a Registrar. It can take a number of weeks for a decision to be made and this will be communicated to you in writing. There are two possible outcomes to your appeal:

  • Your appeal is not upheld – your fail mark stands and you are deemed unsuccessful in that attempt at the registration assessment;
  • Your appeal is upheld – your attempt is nullified and does not count towards the number of available attempts at the assessment.

 

Requesting a Review

If your appeal against your fail result is denied by the GPhC, it is possible to request that the GPhC review this decision. As with an appeal, you cannot request a review, purely on the basis that you are not happy with the GPhC’s decision, however, if you feel that the GPhC have misunderstood or failed to properly consider any element of your appeal and/or you have additional evidence which can be submitted to help explain and justify your particular circumstances and position, then a senior independent manager will review the original decision together with any other information and evidence which you submit.

As with an appeal, being successful with a request for a review, is difficult, but not impossible and relies heavily on what additional evidence can be provided and how this, together with any further explanation or information, is presented.

Arranging to sit the assessment again

If you appeal against a result for the June sitting of the registration assessment and wish to sit this again in September, you should apply to sit the September assessment and make any application for reasonable adjustments, even if the June sitting was your third attempt, before the deadline to apply, regardless of whether you are still awaiting the outcome of your appeal. It is important to be aware that there are additional requirements in relation to undertaking further pre-registration pharmacy training, set by the GPhC, for those candidates sitting the assessment for a second or third time, which are dependent on the time which has elapsed since the last time you sat the assessment.

Appealing or Requesting a Review out of time

As outlined above, an appeal should be submitted within 21 days of your results letter, and although there is no formal time limit within which requests for review should be received, it is accepted that these should be submitted as promptly as possible after the GPhC decision to deny your appeal has been received.

However, it is possible, in exceptional circumstances to successfully appeal or request a review outside of these time limits and potentially many months, or even years, after the exam or GPhC decision. Each case depends entirely on your specific circumstances and will need to be particularly exceptional and unusual if you are to be successful.

Case Study

In July 2015, a pre-registration student appealed direct to the GPhC, without advice or representation, against her third failed attempt at the pre-registration assessment, which was denied. In late 2018, she approached Richard Nelson LLP for advice and assistance, as she recognised that she had been suffering from serious mental health issues, namely post-natal depression, which had affected, not just her performance in the assessment, but her capacity to submit a comprehensive appeal at the time. The pre-registration pharmacist sought specialist psychiatric advice and we worked with her to collate a detailed psychiatric report and other medical evidence relating to her difficulties during and after pregnancy, together with testimonials in support of her request for a review out of time.

On the basis that the request for review and supporting evidence demonstrated that the pre-registration student had been aware that she was suffering from depression at the time of the assessment, but that this depression had affected her judgment and therefore her ability to make a fully informed decision as to whether she was ‘fit to sit’ at the time of the assessment, as well as her ability to submit a full and considered appeal within the standard time frame, was accepted. Her request for a late nullification, on the basis that her psychiatrist now considered her to have made a full and complete recovery and to be of good mental health, was granted and an extension to her 8-year limit to apply for registration was permitted. She is now in the process of undertaking her further 6-month placement and is preparing to sit the Registration Assessment again in June 2020.

Some Statistics

Following a freedom of information request to the GPhC, below is a summary of the appeals processed by the GPhC for the last 2 years:

 

Useful Information

The GPhC website and in particular the Pharmacist pre-registration manual, along with the Registration Assessment Regulations and Guidance for Unsuccessful Candidates, published each year, provide more detailed information about the pre-registration process, time limits, appeals and key dates.

How Can We Help?

We have experience of advising pre-registration students who have failed the Registration Assessment, in a detailed telephone consultation, regarding your prospects of successfully appealing against your fail result. We have also prepared written appeals and requests for review, on behalf of pre-registration students, many of which have been successful, allowing the student another attempt at the assessment.

Please contact us today for advice and help with appealing against your failed pre-registration assessment.

Victoria Rees

Written by Victoria Rees

Since joining Richard Nelson LLP in May 2016 as a Senior Legal Assistant, Victoria Rees has gained significant experience in professional disciplinary matters, advising and representing a variety of healthcare and teaching professionals in relation to their professional registration and fitness to practise concerns, with a particular focus on supporting university students going through fitness to practise proceedings and pre-registration pharmacy students appealing their results in the registration assessment.

Read more about Victoria Rees.

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