Exams update from the CEO

The past months have seen significant work here at the College to address the issues that led to the examinations results error for the March diet of the FRCEM SBA. Before explaining what we have been doing, I think some context is useful, at the risk of recapping what we have already said before. 

As many of you are aware, we were devastated that 50 candidates of our FRCEM Single Best Answer paper examined in March were wrongly advised that they had passed the examination, when they had in fact failed.  This was understandably very difficult news for all affected, including their friends, family and colleagues.  It had an impact on their life plans, all at a time when emergency medicine is under such pressure.  I and my team are truly sorry about this and I want to reassure you that the College has taken this extremely seriously and is working to ensure that this does not happen again.   

Here is an overview of the immediate actions we took to address this situation. We: 

  • contacted all affected candidates to inform them and set up a special helpline so that they could discuss their options with us, staffed by me and senior colleagues 
  • set up a support service staffed by trained counsellors available 24 hours a day 7 days a week  
  • refunded the fees of the examination sat  
  • confirmed that the resit will be free of charge  
  • confirmed that those affected will not have the resit or the failed attempted counted as an attempt by way of mitigation 
  • developed training for candidates on the SBA,, with the help of Dr Jason Long, Acting Dean and colleagues. This was rolled out first to those taking the special resit on 4 July, and made available to all candidates to help them prepare for this examination in future.  We plan to update this and create a resource for candidates in the future.  
  • received help from a group of senior EM clinicians and experienced educators who offered all candidates affected by the results error the opportunity to meet with and talk to a fellow EM clinician to offer support 
  • put together a package of learning from RCEMLearning
  • are regularly in touch with Heads of School, the Lead Dean, and put in place a range of support for the candidates but it is the reality of this situation that already very busy Heads of School, Education Supervisors and Specialty Tutors as well as the candidates themselves faced increased work as a result.  I have also apologised to the Heads of School personally for this situation. 

Our first priority was to support the affected candidates, but as a College we are also determined to learn from this experience.  That is an ongoing programme of continuous improvement. 

Our investigation into this incident has completed.  This was undertaken by the Chair of our Corporate Governance Committee supported by two Committee members: a lay member with specialism in IT and a senior Fellow of the College. The findings have just been received and are being presented to our Trustee Board on 1st September.  We aim to publish the recommendations and our response to those once we have discussed this with our Trustee Board on 1 September and our Council on 29 September.  I understand there is a strong desire from our trainees and wider membership to see the recommendations but first I need to deal with any associated personnel issues, brief the Board and Council. I hope you will understand that will mean I cannot share these immediately. 

We have begun a review of our processes for the calculation and production of results and have made significant improvements.  Results are now subject to enhanced detailed checking before being ready for release.  We have further process improvement work planned.  An erroneous automatic email was sent on Monday evening 22 August advising MRCEM results were available on our website but unfortunately the results were not ready until soon after 9am the following morning.  We apologised for this error caused by a human error in mistakenly programming an automatic email alert for the results and then not changing this to reflect the actual date the results were ready.  We have changed that aspect of the process to add in a management check before any such emails are sent in future and were really frustrated and sorry for this error at a time when we are putting in significant work in our systems and processes to improve.   

We have also commissioned an External Review to be led by Prof John McLachlan and are working with him about the timescale for that work currently.  We will provide more information on this as and when it becomes available. 

We are presenting the College Trustee Board on 1 September with proposals for investment of more resources to support our examinations and strengthen the team supporting trainees.  We anticipate their prioritisation of resources to assist us in dealing with our programme of improvement for our examinations. 

We know that this incident has repercussions.  We are determined to make sure that our service operates as it should in future and re-build the confidence of the trainee body in our work.  As we build up our resource base and work through the process improvements needed, this will happen.  Building up our capabilities takes time. For example, for the two additional management posts I authorised in May in the immediate aftermath of the results error we have seen new role holders starting with us in the past couple of weeks.  The two post holders took time to arrive.  Investing in our customer service and reliability of our examinations is a core priority for us and we will see further investment here in the coming weeks and months. 

Our 80 employees are committed to supporting Emergency Medicine but are but a small part of the RCEM people resources.  We rely heavily on volunteers from within the specialty on a wide range of committees and working groups, where we need additional lay input, we seek that from the volunteers within the College Lay Group.  Collectively we are working to deliver the core College services and support the specialty.   

Do let me know if you have thoughts on what we could be doing better or where we can improve regarding Exams; I’m always keen to ensure that we are aligned to the needs of our members. Email me at gordon.miles@rcem.ac.uk 

Gordon Miles