National Clinical Coding Qualification - March & September 2020 Cancellations - FAQs


Please find below some of the frequently asked questions we have received regarding the NCCQ examination and the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to COVID-19 both the March & September NCCQ’s have been cancelled. Does this mean that a Trainee Clinical Coder cannot transition to a higher AfC banding without passing the NCCQ?

There is no national mandate to insist that a clinical coder obtains accredited status before promotion can be awarded, this is down to individual Trusts discretion and how they want to manage the development of their employees - and the national variation in banding and approaches to promotion is testament to this.

We do not see the cancellation of the March and September NCCQ as a reason to keep staff waiting if their managers are satisfied; they have met the competencies necessary for the job role/person specification. We are happy to advise managers on the use of internal assessment/monitoring but simultaneously keen that we do not devalue the NCCQ and would like to take the opportunity to highlight the merits of the qualifications for the individual, department and wider organisation.

The National Clinical Coding Qualification (NCCQ) is the nationally recognised quality standard which provides independent assurance of the clinical coding practitioners’ competency in the use of the clinical classifications and knowledge of how to apply the associated rules, conventions and national clinical coding standards. Any clinical coding manager can be assured that a holder of the qualification (Accredited Clinical Coder/ACC) has been assessed and met the level of competence demanded. Therefore, the qualification is well-regarded and is invaluable in aiding robust recruitment processes. The qualification also acts as evidence of compliance with Data Security and Protection Toolkit (DSPT) Data Standard 3, assisting organisations towards meeting those standards.

Whilst formal examination remains an important hallmark of professionalism it need not act as a barrier to restrict an individual’s career progression. Obtaining the NCCQ is a pre-requisite for the approved clinical coding auditor and trainer assessment programmes as set by the course provider. However, Clinical Coding departments may establish their own criteria regarding internal progression as well as the on-going assessment and development of their employees that are consistent with their respective organisational policies and the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service.

Attainment of the NCCQ is an important step in a clinical coding career but in order for a practitioners' ACC status to maintain currency it is crucial that they are able to demonstrate continuing professional development and adherence to the requirements described in the Clinical Coding Training Handbook.

Question: Why are IHRIM not seeking the option to run an exam towards the end of the year?

The scheduling and preparation of the NCCQ exams is a significant undertaking and requires several months. All venues need to be secured and checked against our criteria well in advance of the exam day. The biggest issue we have faced with trying to arrange exams for September has been the lack of availability of our venues. These have either been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic with no clear date for reopening or have prioritised other groups. For example, university campuses have – understandably – placed some restrictions on external visitors. Therefore, trying to secure additional venues for a potential October or November exam is an extremely tight deadline. We also need to ensure we bring our own staff back into a safe office environment and have assurance that the marking and moderation processes can run as usual. Given the uncertainty over a ‘second wave’ we cannot guarantee we will be able to perform these processes to a fixed timetable and issue results. This would also overlap with the scheduled timetable for delivery of the March 2021 examination and would stretch our resources. Therefore, we have considered it as an option but on balance this is not a feasible option.


Question: Why can IHRIM not run an exam which adheres to social distancing?

This largely concerns availability of venues. To carry out the exams under social distancing conditions we would anticipate that additional capacity would be needed and trying to find and book additional venues to accommodate all candidates wishing to register is not something we can guarantee. We continue to keep this under review as government guidelines are updated and will be in a position to provide advice to NCCQ candidates regarding the conditions the exam will be carried out under.


Question: Why can IHRIM not run extra exams next year?

This is an option and something which will be considered. This will depend on availability of resources to commit to additional examination dates and the method used for the delivering the qualification.


Question: Why can IHRIM not run a digital exam?

IHRIM is a small, not-for-profit body which relies on the contributions of its members and volunteer support. Expecting us to react with the same agility as larger examination bodies and qualification providers is unrealistic. We run our exams at cost, unfortunately this leaves very little budget to invest in alternatives. However, we are currently exploring the option to run these exams digitally in the future and will notify our members and the coding community once these plans are suitably developed. Currently we cannot put a timescale on this work as our main priority is to ensure any changes to delivery do not undermine the integrity of the assessment – as the standards set by ourselves and NHS Digital are high –  although we endeavour to move as quickly as we are able.