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GOC statement in response to OPG petition

21 Jan 2021

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We recognise that these are really challenging times for our registrants who are working on the front line as healthcare professionals delivering the nation’s eye care needs.

The role of the General Optical Council

Determining whether healthcare settings should remain open during the pandemic is a role for national governments working in conjunction with commissioning bodies such as the NHS and health authorities.

Unlike the first lockdown, Government and the NHS has determined that routine primary health care services should remain open during this lockdown. Eye care and routine sight tests are essential public healthcare services, which should continue to be available to access wherever possible, providing it is safe to deliver and there is capacity to do so. We are now at a very different level of preparedness than the first lockdowns in March 2020, with infection control procedures in place, changes to clinical practice now embedded and lateral flow tests and PPE readily available.

The role of the GOC is to ensure that registrants are taking account of this guidance to protect patients, but we do not set the clinical parameters for the guidance and we do not set national government policy in relation to how care is delivered. Clinical guidance on how this care can be delivered safely is the remit of the NHS and sector experts such as The College of Optometrists. We work closely with these organisations to ensure that our registrants are receiving consistent information and taking account of the guidance to protect patients.

We have a shared expectation that this is done in a safe environment for patients and registrants and that our registrants, including businesses, will follow government, public health and professional guidance in doing so and apply professional judgement to particular contexts of practice. We will act where this is not the case.

GOC COVID-19 statements and consultation

We have produced a number of COVID-19 statements intended to support registrants to effectively deliver care during the pandemic. These include proportionate relaxation of regulatory requirements in the public interest, clarification of some areas of our legislation where there has been misunderstanding and enabling the use of remote practice where this can be done safely. We have always acted in good faith to clarify Government and NHS guidance and how it applies to our registrants and will continue to do so.

We have worked with the College and the Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO) and others to ensure that we provide a consistent message on how our COVID-19 statements apply during the pandemic and as outlined in our recent public consultation (which ended on 7 January), intend to align these with the College framework to ensure clarity for our registrants.  

All healthcare regulators needed to act quickly and take urgent decisions related to practice during the pandemic to ensure that care could continue to be delivered to patients safely. We consulted with a range of organisations and stakeholders to get a consensus approach to changes to our advice and guidance in our COVID-19 statements.

GOC representatives meet with a wide range of stakeholders on a regular basis. This includes our business registrants who are a vital stakeholder for us to understand the context of healthcare delivery in our sector. All of our COVID-19 statements were consulted on with the majority of stakeholder representative bodies in the sector and separately signed off by our Council based on this feedback. For transparency, all meetings that a Director or the CEO of the GOC has with stakeholders are declared in reports to Council.

Education Strategic Review (ESR)

The ESR will ensure the qualifications we approve are responsive to a rapidly changing landscape in the commissioning of eye-care services in each of the devolved nations. They respond to the changing needs of patients and service users and changes in higher education, not least as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as increased expectations of the student community and their future employers. 

We needed to consult during the pandemic to ensure that our current requirements do not become out of date and that the qualifications we approve in the future are fit for purpose. It was also important that we consulted so that the changes we make to our qualifications align with the changes we make to our pre-registration competence requirements as part of our Continuing Education and Training (CET) Review.

It is important to note that we do not have a role in funding or commissioning of services. We are however keen to work with stakeholders to explore ways to secure additional funding for optical education and training. This includes working with all UK governments and Health Education England, the Departments for Education, Health and Social Care.

Conclusion

We acknowledge that the petition calls upon the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) to investigate allegations and we will provide further information on the matter as required. We would always encourage those who have concerns, to raise these directly with us.

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