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Pass rates for nMRCGP exam plummet

By Lilian Anekwe

Exclusive: Pass rates for the new MRCGP exam have plummeted between its first and second years of operation, providing a possible explanation for the sudden shortage of young GPs on the jobs market.

The proportion of trainee GPs passing the applied knowledge tests (AKT) component of the exam fell to 83% in 2008, down from an estimated 95% for the previous cohort, according to a new report from the RCGP.

And trainees taking the clinical skills assessment (CSA) fared even worse, with the pass rate down to 79%, from an estimated 93% for the previous cohort.

The 2008 pass rates fell by 14% for the CSA and 12% for the AKT compared with rates the college estimated in its interim report on exams taken between October 2007 and May 2008 after the new look exam was launched.

Some GP trainers fear the fiasco involving the Medical Training Application Service (MTAS) – the botched electronic application system for junior doctors applying for training places in hospital specialities – has deluging general practice with a flood of lower-quality applicants.

A falling rate in GPs passing their training has also been mooted as a possible reason behind practices finding it increasingly difficult impossible to fill salaried and locum posts, after a Pulse investigation last month showed a drop in applicants of up to 90% over the last 12 months.

But despite the dramatic decline in pass rates, the RCGP insisted the latest results were ‘encouraging'. Its report concluded: ‘The committee is pleased with the development of these two formal assessments. An entirely new assessment will take time to bed down but for a new assessment of this length it shows encouraging psychometrics.'

Dr Catti Moss, a GP trainer in Guilsborough, Northamptonshire, said the MTAS debacle meant more low-quality applicants might have applied for general practice.

‘There may well be subtle difference in the quality of people going into general practice. Three years ago there were a lot of people coming in because they didn't think they were going to get anything else because of MTAS. So there might be more people who are not quite as brilliant as before.'

Dr Tanya Johnston, a GP in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, and director of the Northumbria vocational training programme, said it was early days, but the exam did seem to be tougher than the one set in the first year: ‘It's possible with the new curriculum we might be looking for better-quality candidates.'

The figures also show there is still a big gap in the performance of trainee GPs from white and ethnic minority backgrounds, as revealed by Pulse in June.

Some 65.7% of Asian candidates, and 58.3% of black candidates, passed the CSA, compared with 76.1% of candidates from other ethnic groups.

Dr Tanya Johnston: MRCGP exam seems tougher than in first year Dr Tanya Johnston: MRCGP exam seems tougher than in first year

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