Illegal practice
General Optical Council eBulletin 20
May 2014

Developing our illegal practice strategy

We are developing a new strategy to deal with illegal practices such as misuse of a protected title and illegal online contact lens sales. This includes measures such as raising awareness and developing a code of practice for online sales. GOC Director of Policy and Communication, Alistair Bridge, explains more and highlights why collaboration is the key to success.


Last year we commissioned independent research into the health risks posed to the public's health and safety by illegal practices in the optical sector. We recognise that our previous approach to dealing with illegal practice was more effective in some areas than others, and that we need a new strategy based on a deeper understanding of these practices and the associated risks to the public.

'Illegal practice' is a broad term that covers a wide-range of activities, including misuse of a protected title such as optometrist or dispensing optician, unregistered individuals selling spectacles to under-16s, and sales of prescription and cosmetic contact lenses that do not comply with the requirements set out in the Opticians Act.

That is why we need a strategy that reflects the varied nature of the issues we are trying to tackle.

Our proposals

As well as continuing to deal with illegal practice complaints in line with our published prosecution protocol, we are proposing to take a more innovative approach. This would be based on educating the public about the risks, building stronger relationships with other enforcement bodies and developing a voluntary code of practice for online contact lens sales.

The aim of the latter would be both to encourage good practice among online retailers and to make it easier for the public to know where they can safely purchase their lenses online.

Although our main aim is to better protect the public we know that this is a very important issue to you as registrants. We are conscious of the need to ensure that any proposals we implement work for registrants and avoid creating additional burdens on optical businesses that follow good practice already.

The importance of collaboration

Collaboration will be key to making this strategy a success. In order to effectively tackle illegal practice it will be necessary for all part of the optical sector – including practitioners, business owners, manufacturers and professional bodies – to work together towards a common goal of reducing public harm.

We are strongly committed to developing a strategy that has the support of the professions and industry as a whole. Registrants who deal with patients on a daily basis and manufacturers who control the supply chain for contact lenses are in a particularly strong position to help bring about positive change.

The new strategy will not solve all the issues overnight. In particular challenges will remain in dealing with companies who base themselves in other countries and supply the UK market without complying with UK law. However, this challenge is precisely why we need a new approach and why collaboration across the sector is so important.

Ultimately the answer lies in educating the public and empowering them to make informed decisions about the goods and services they receive. If the public is made fully aware of the risk posed by illegal practices and knows where to go to safely purchase optical goods and receive eyecare, including adequate advice and aftercare, then that will go a long way towards reducing the risk of harm.

How to respond

I’m sure most of you have already seen that we are currently consulting on our proposed new strategy. The consultation closes on 3 June, so there is still time to let us know what you think. You can read and respond to the consultation on our website. I strongly encourage you to respond, and to work with us once we have a finalised strategy to make it a success.

- Alistair Bridge, GOC Director of Policy and Communications

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