The British Pharmacological Society and MSC Assessment are working together to develop the Prescribing Safety Assessment (PSA) to allow all students to demonstrate their competencies in relation to the safe and effective use of medicines.

Why are we doing this?

Prescribing is a fundamental part of the work of Foundation year one doctors, who write and review many prescriptions each day. It is a complex task requiring knowledge of medicines and the diseases they are used to treat, careful judgement of risks and benefits of treatment, and attention to detail. As well as offering the potential for improving health, prescribing is an activity associated with potential hazards: a GMC-sponsored study found that 9% of hospital prescriptions contain errors. It is also apparent in other research (see The state of medical education and practice in the UK report: 2014 and Be prepared: are new doctors safe to practise?) that this is the area of the Foundation Doctor role that new graduates find the most challenging. In response, the General Medical Council (which regulates undergraduate medical education in the UK) placed a much greater emphasis on the prescribing competencies expected of new graduates in its recommendations to medical schools (Tomorrow’s Doctors 2009).

What are we proposing?

Our aim is not to place any additional hurdles in front of UK medical students; rather it is to provide a reliable and validated assessment that will serve to demonstrate that the core prescribing competencies outlined in Tomorrow’s Doctors (2009) have been achieved by all graduates.

The proposed assessment is pass/fail, and medical students are be expected to pass the assessment prior to graduation. Medical schools are responsible for providing further training and support in prescribing for those retaking the assessment prior to graduation.

How is the assessment being developed?

MSC Assessment and the BPS are leading the development of the Prescribing Safety Assessment. They are supported by the Assessment Board to the PSA, a Technical Capacity and Delivery Group and a cross-sector Stakeholder Group. The Assessment Board to the PSA is responsible for overseeing the recruitment of experts to write and review assessment items and for developing and quality assuring the test papers. The Stakeholder Group includes a student representative from the BMA, and enables key stakeholders, to be involved in the development of the assessment and the associated policies and processes. The PSA Technical Capacity and Delivery Group ensures that the technical platform meets the requirements of the assessment.

After the successful pilot on a national scale in 2013, the Prescribing Safety Assessment was run in all UK medical schools with final year undergraduate students in February-June 2014. The test will be organised again for all final year medical undergraduates in February-June 2015. The latest news on the PSA can be found on the Updates page.