College issues further explanation for SCA technical difficulties on Tuesday 14 November

College Chair Kamila Hawthorne and Chief Examiner Rich Withnall have written a further letter to trainees, following the technical incident affecting some candidates at Tuesday afternoon’s (14 November) sitting of the Simulated Consultation Assessment.

You can read the letter in full here.

We hope you have received our profuse apologies for the technical incident that may have prevented you from completing your SCA examination on Tuesday afternoon, along with suggestions for the next steps that will enable you to re-take the assessment if needed. Understandably, if you were negatively impacted, you are distressed and angry at what happened, and please be assured that we are not underestimating the additional anxiety this will have contributed. 

We are writing to you again in an attempt to answer the various questions that the College is being asked about the incident and how we move forward. These fall into three main categories: 

What happened?

Tuesday’s temporary outage was caused by a technical issue across the whole of Europe by a third-party organisation. The Osler platform must communicate across a variety of mediums and like many global companies of repute, uses ‘Pusher’, as its third-party provider. Any organisation using a related IT platform at this time would have been impacted, and it is important to note that this was not an RCGP system as has been portrayed in the media. We went through a very robust procurement programme to select an appropriate IT platform for the SCA, and the Osler platform has an excellent track record for delivery and reputation for reliability. PRP/Osler have assured us that Tuesday’s incident was ‘unprecedented’ and had never happened before. We accept that the technical issue impacted the communications within the platform which meant that we were unable to communicate to trainees within the platform what was going wrong and how to remedy the situation or to respond to your questions. For this reason, the incident would not have affected everyone, and we critically understand how frustrating and isolating this would have felt.  

Who was impacted?

On Tuesday afternoon 83 trainees sat the SCA. Despite the difficulties, 46 trainees were able to complete the assessment, and 37 were unable to. Of the 46 that will now be marked we will be reviewing all cases in case any trainees were disadvantaged as a result. Typically, on a full SCA examination day, such as Wednesday, around 200 trainees can sit the SCA, and yesterday as an example all 200 completed with no adverse impact. 99.5% of trainees who sat the SCA in the first week of the examination were able to complete the assessment. 

Whilst we understand this will not rectify this experience for you, it is important to highlight that the assessment platform is robust and is not a direct consequence of the mode of delivery. This incident would still have adversely impacted any trainee sitting the examination at home, or in 30 Euston Square. We expect over 1100 trainees to successfully complete their assessment in the November diet. 

What are we doing to remedy the situation?

We have enacted our contingency plan, which is to free up a space for all impacted trainees on the January diet. We have already written to you to invite you to liaise with our examinations team for a space in January, or in later diets if this is not convenient. We understand that a rapid decision on the clarity of dates is important to trainees. We also understand that trainees are keen to complete the SCA as quickly as possible from the date originally planned and many will be asking why we cannot just schedule a one-off examination?

Usually the next available examination (Jan 24) is not reservable by a trainee sitting in December, but our contingency is to add all impacted trainees into this diet. The delivery of a clinical OSCE is very complex and requires us to schedule hundreds of examiners, and role-players, IT support staff, invigilators, staff, circuit leads, and this cannot be managed at short notice for a small number of trainees, particularly as there is a minimum number of trainees required within an examination diet to ensure the results are reliable using borderline regression. Had this incident happened in January, the contingency would be much closer to the original date but unfortunately we cannot run examinations in December (or July and August) as examiners who are working GPs would disadvantage their practices and patients where cover is extremely limited. This schedule of examinations has been agreed in line with the SEBs and training community. 

In regard to the IT platform, we will continue to review alternative communication channels above and beyond using mobile telephones, and we have high level meetings with PRP Osler already scheduled for next week. 

We hope this clarifies the situation, even if we are not able to provide you with the solutions you would ideally want. As we said previously, we have introduced this new surgery-based approach in direct response to trainee feedback as part of our ongoing work to improve the examination ‘experience’ for candidates.  We have seen suggestions on social media that the problems experienced on Tuesday afternoon were linked to practice-based delivery and we can again assure you that this is not the case and that the problems with Pusher were experienced by all clients regardless of their location.

Sadly, though we understand that your personal examination experience may have fallen very short on Tuesday afternoon, and we are very sorry that you had such a bruising experience. We hope that we can now rebuild your trust and confidence in the SCA. The College Examinations team will be there to support you through the next steps, and please let us know if there is anything at all we can do to help.

Once again, we thank you for your patience and understanding on Tuesday. We really cannot apologise enough for what happened, but valuable lessons have been, and will continue to be, learnt, as we continue into 2024 with the SCA. 

Our very best wishes,

Professor Kamila Hawthorne MBE MD FRCGP FRCP FAcadMEd FLSW
RCGP Chair

RCGP Chief Examiner

Further information

RCGP Press office: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editors

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 54,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.