Restarting UK PACES: 2020/3

14 Aug 2020

This advice only applies to the domestic UK examination

MRCP(UK) is planning to restart the PACES clinical examination in the United Kingdom from October 2020. The safety of our patients, candidates, clinicians and examination administrators remains our main priority. However, any changes we make to PACES as a consequence of COVID-19 must ensure that the validity and reliability of the examination is retained. The PACES carousel must also comply with both national and local guidance on social distancing and infection control. Our COVID-19 clinical workstream group has been working hard behind the scenes and has now recommended some changes to the delivery format for the PACES examination, although final approval from the General Medical Council is awaited:

Stations 1, 3 and 5: it is planned to run PACES stations 1, 3 and 5, as a mini carousel, retaining the existing format, using real patients and assessing the same seven skills as before. The content and timing of the stations will be unchanged but additional time will be added between the clinical encounters to permit the donning and doffing of PPE and for items such as stethoscopes to be cleaned.

Stations 2 and 4: candidates will sit stations 2 and 4, with a third “rest” station, as another mini carousel, on the same day and at the same centre. The candidates will be in the centre but the surrogate and examiners will be remote, connected through an online platform. The remote encounter will be facilitated by onsite administrators and all necessary equipment will be provided to an agreed specification across all centres. The room will be cleaned prior to candidate entry and the candidate will not have to set up any of the equipment. The content and timings of the stations will be unchanged. We are currently developing further, more detailed advice, for candidates about the running of these stations and will publish this soon.

As a result of the additional time between stations, and the changeover of cycles, the whole examination will take 3 hours, and candidates may be asked to undertake the mini-cycles in either order.

These changes to the format of the examination are temporary as a consequence of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK and are not connected to the implementation of the new PACES 2020 examination which has been delayed.

Prioritisation of candidates in UK training for the PACES 2020/3 exam

The changes we are proposing will inevitably result in some loss of candidate places in 2020/3 (diet 3 of 2020) compared with previous years given the need for the additional space and time required to run a socially distanced PACES examination. We will, therefore, by necessity have to prioritise PACES 2020/3 places for UK trainees according to their need for training/career progression. Priority for 2020/3 will be as follows:

Priority level 1: candidates who have been appointed to UK higher specialty training (HST) posts (e.g. ST3) and have not yet passed PACES.

Priority level 2: Candidates who are currently in IMY 2 who will be applying for a group 1 or 2 specialty in 2022 or 2021 respectively. Numbers in group 1 are currently small so it is anticipated that the majority of applicants in the priority 2 category will be offered a place.

Priority level 3: Candidates who have left core training (Core Medical Training, Acute Care Common Stem or Broad Based Training) and intend to return to a formal UK physician training programme in 2021.

Priority level 4:  All others who are eligible to apply to sit the PACES examination. 

Where we have more applicants than examination spaces in any given group, allocation will be randomised. 

We would like to reassure trainees that no one will be prevented from progressing through critical career points because they have been unable to obtain a PACES place. We are working extremely hard to ensure that there are sufficient places for all trainees across the next three diets.

The future course of the COVID-19 pandemic remains very uncertain. We use a number of different venues in the different regions and devolved nations, and not all will necessarily be affected by the pandemic in the same way. Therefore, the delivery of our assessments remains subject to short notice change. Moreover, this temporary PACES model, the associated guidance, regulations and indeed the running of the whole diet may need to adapt and change to suit the prevailing circumstances, including at short notice.  We will keep candidates informed of any changes and would also strongly encourage you to regularly monitor the website for updates.

In the meantime, candidates should prepare in the same way as they normally would. They will be tested on the same skills, within the same stations, as usual, and the pass standards will also be unchanged.

We have plenty of helpful information and advice below:

For further updates and information, see our COVID-19 hub.