Exclusive The RCGP has apologised to trainees, after plans to increase the number of sittings of the exam to fulfil its equality duties have left GP trainees missing deadlines and facing paying bills of £1,600 in two weeks.
The college has introduced more sittings throughout the year for the Clinical Skills Assessment (CSA) to make it more flexible, in an attempt to address differentials in pass rates between white UK graduates and black and minority ethnic graduates.
But the schedule changes to accommodate this have meant candidates have had deadlines for applications brought forward, and many GP trainees – and their trainers – have complained the RCGP did not give candidates proper notice of the change to the deadlines.
In a statement to Pulse, college chair Dr Maureen Baker said the college was ‘sorry for any confusion or inconvenience caused by the most recent changes to booking dates’, but added that the college would not be able to introduce a deposit system to allow trainees to pay the full amount of the fee later.
The increase in the number of CSA sittings was revealed in an RCGP council paper on the initiatives the RCGP is undertaking in response to recommendations made by the Judicial Review of claims of racial bias in the MRCGP exam, which cleared the college of any racial discrimination, but demanded the college take steps to address the ongoing disparity in exam pass rates between international medical graduates and UK graduates.
Dr Baker said that the college had ‘changed its exams schedule in line with requests from trainees and others for greater flexibility and we have expanded the number of sittings available from three to eight per year’.
However, trainees were making it clear over social media that the plans had disrupted their schedules, with reports that the sittings they were planning on taking were now full, while others had deadlines brought forward, which meant they were having to pay the exam fee within two weeks, rather than the months they had budgeted for.
Dr Baker added: ‘Monthly sittings of the exam started in October and will run until May 2015. This was intended to be beneficial to the candidates, as well as college examiners and the deaneries. There was wide consultation about the proposed timetable for examinations with a range of stakeholders but we are sorry for any confusion or inconvenience caused by the most recent changes to booking dates.’
She said that there had been undersubscription in November and December, adding: ‘Realising that it was going to be difficult to know exactly when trainees were intending to sit, we decided to amalgamate the booking periods for January and February examination and bring these forward to avoid possible capacity issues later in the year.’
However, she said it ‘was not possible to give as much notice of these changes as we would have liked and some trainees have expressed disappointment about this, for which we apologise’.
The college had considered a deposit option because candidates who were considering applying for February were being asked to move their payment forward by approximately one month, which would mean paying before Christmas.
However, she added: ‘The February diet has been completely oversubscribed so this does not appear to have been a major deterrent to booking. There are still a number of places available for the examination session scheduled for 19-31 January 2015 and over 900 places will be available for examination in March.’
The apology came after trainers and trainees took to social media to complain about the changing of the dates.
One GP trainer said on Facebook: ‘I see that you have, with no warning, moved the application date forward two months. So that candidates now have only two weeks to find £1,600, rather than the two months that they were budgeting. Congratulations, once again, on treating your prospective members like utter s***.’
Dr Shamriz Hussain, a GP registrar in Doncaster, said: ‘I have just found out, not via any correspondence from the RCGP, but by Facebook of all things that the exam booking date for January and February has changed now from two months to two weeks away.
‘That is quite a substantial amount of money to find in a small amount of time for people with things like a mortgage… bills… something called Christmas to prepare for.’
The increase in CSA sittings was revealed in an RCGP council paper on the initiatives the RCGP is undertaking in response to recommendations made by the Judicial Review of claims of racial bias in the MRCGP exam.
Under the heading ‘A strategic MRCGP plan to address differential performance: actions which the RCGP can take’, the paper said: ‘An increase in the number of CSA diets to increase flexibility for candidates and deaneries/LETBs from October 14 (GMC approved).’
In addition to the expanded CSA schedule, the college is taking a number of steps, including extending the Advanced Knowledge Test (AKT) by 10 minutes, to reduce time pressure, providing better resources for CSA preparation based on new sociolinguistic research and changing the methodology by which CSA standards are set.
Dr Ramesh Mehta, chair of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, said he was pleased with the RCGP’s response to the judicial review so far.
Dr Mehta said: ‘We are very pleased with the actions points established for changes to be made to the MRCGP exam – it is a good move by the college. If we did not challenge the college with the judicial review, none of these changes would have happened, and we are pleased that the college is acting sincerely.
‘I think one of the key action points is to extend the length of the AKT timing by 10 minutes for all candidates, because this will help doctors whose first language is not English. This has already come into effect and we have said to the college that we will wait and see if it helps change the differential pass rate, as I believe it will.’