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News from Council - 29 July 2015

29 Jul 2015

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Council approves standards of practice

The General Optical Council (GOC) has agreed new standards of practice for optometrists and dispensing opticians, and new standards for optical students to come into effect from 1 April 2016.

The standards will support registrants by making much clearer the GOC’s expectations as the statutory regulator with responsibility for setting professional standards in the optical sector. The standards also give room for registrants to use their professional judgement in deciding how to apply the standards in any given situation.

The standards are flexible enough to deal with future developments in practice across the four nations of the UK. They are also flexible enough for registrants to apply regardless of whether they are employees, locums or business owners and whether they work on the high street, in hospital or in domiciliary settings.

The standards are consistent with the standards of other healthcare professionals and so will help registrants who wish to provide enhanced community services as part of teams spanning primary and secondary care.

The GOC has responded to the feedback obtained through all the consultation strands by amending the standards to avoid duplication, make them clearer and ensure that they are achievable for all registrants regardless of their employment status and where they work.

The GOC commissioned independent research agency Collaborate Research to consult on the standards and obtain a robust and representative response from a range of stakeholder groups. In addition to a public consultation, there was a survey of all registrants and a series of focus groups with patients, the public, optometrists, dispensing opticians, students and fitness to practise decision-makers.

Over four-fifths (82 per cent) of the almost 1,900 registrants who responded to the online survey supported the GOC’s new approach to standards. This includes 57 per cent who supported the new approach fully and 25 per cent who supported it partly or with reservations.

There were 206 responses to the public consultation (including 165 from optometrists and 17 from organisations). The majority of the respondents to the public consultation did not agree with the GOC’s approach to setting standards (25 per cent supported, 66 per cent did not). However, most of the organisations who responded were supportive of the GOC’s approach and the majority of opposing views (58 per cent) were from individual registrants who supported the response of an optical trade association, with around two-thirds citing this verbatim.

Samantha Peters, GOC Chief Executive and Registrar, said: “Our focus is on ensuring that our standards protect and promote the public’s health and safety and it is encouraging to have had such a high level of response from registrants and other stakeholders on the changes we’re making.

“We know the importance of listening, and we’ve used the extensive feedback we received to make changes to enhance the clarity of our standards, and to make them easier to use and more proportionate. I’d like to reiterate our thanks to everyone who has got involved in the consultation.”

There was support for the GOC having separate student standards to reflect the fact that students are still developing their skills, whereas at the moment students are subject to the same Code of Conduct as fully qualified registrants. Many respondents supported the GOC’s position, set out in 2013, that student registration is not necessary, at least for undergraduates. However, until the law changes, the GOC has a legal requirement to register and set standards for students.

The GOC is also updating its Code of Conduct for business registrants to make clear that registered businesses should support their employees in meeting their obligations under the new standards.

The GOC is also keen to achieve legislative change to ensure that it can regulate all optical businesses. GOC Chair, Gareth Hadley, called for the professions to support the GOC’s bid to achieve this legislative change: “The GOC being able to regulate all UK businesses providing optical services would benefit patients and registrants alike by meaning all businesses would need to adhere to high standards and support their optometrists and dispensing opticians in meeting their requirements as individual professionals. It would also create a level playing field for businesses.

“We are pushing hard for legislative change, and were disappointed that the Professional Accountability Bill did not make it into the Queen’s Speech in the spring. I call on colleagues across the sector to join the GOC in arguing with a loud, collective voice for the importance of regulating all businesses that carry out restricted functions, such as testing sight and supplying contact lenses.

“In the meantime, I urge businesses not currently required to register to consider doing so voluntarily to demonstrate to the public their commitment to high standards of care.”

The new standards of practice will come into effect on 1 April 2016, with all registrants receiving a copy in the post by December 2015. As part of the annual retention process, registrants will have to declare that they have read and will abide by the standards. Registrants will also have to do at least one piece of CET on standards as part of the 2016-18 cycle.

The GOC will write to all registered businesses enclosing the updated code of conduct for business registrants, reminding them of the importance of ensuring they do not prevent their employees from meeting the standards.

Samantha Peters added, “The new standards create a fantastic platform for the optical professions to develop in the future. We look forward to working with the stakeholders who have been so engaged during the consultation period to ensure their successful implementation.”

Collaborate Research’s report is available on our website: https://www.optical.org/en/news_publications/Publications/policy-and-research-papers.cfm

GOC to consult on voluntary code for contact lens sellers

The GOC is set to consult on a voluntary code of practice for online contact lens suppliers. The GOC will consult on the draft code from 3 August to 12 October 2015, and will announce further information on 3 August.

The code of practice is designed to make it easier for people buying contact lenses online to buy and wear them safely and encourage them to have regular aftercare appointments and eye examinations.

Alistair Bridge, Director of Strategy, also updated Council on the GOC’s progress with the other strands of its strategy for tackling illegal practice in the optical sector. These are continuing to handle complaints in line with its prosecution protocol, collaboration with other enforcement bodies to address high-risk areas and guidance for the public on the safe purchase and use of contact lenses.

Complaints handling update

Council also received an update on the GOC’s efforts to speed up its complaints handling.

Lisa Davis, GOC Director of Fitness to Practise, set out work the GOC has already done to speed up the way it deals with complaints. This includes mapping the current process to identify bottlenecks, a more co-ordinated way of listing interim order cases and an internal audit of the FTP process. Planned actions include securing additional resource and pursuing legislative change.

Lisa Davis said, “Speeding up the complaints-handling process is vital in the interests of patients and registrants alike. We are protecting the public by really improving our speed of action in respect of interim orders for the most serious cases causing a patient safety risk, but we know we need to improve the end-to-end time for all FTP complaints.”

Other news

Council discussed the GOC’s recent performance review report from the Professional Standards Authority (PSA). They considered the positives identified by the PSA, particularly the outcomes achieved through the GOC's enhanced CET scheme, as well as the areas where the GOC did not meet three of the PSA’s 24 standards. Further details of the report are available here: https://www.optical.org/en/news_publications/news_item.cfm/goc-welcomes-professional-standards-authority-performance-review

Chair Gareth Hadley announced Caroline Corby as the new Chair of the GOC Investigation Committee following a recent recruitment exercise.

Council approved a revised version of the GOC’s accreditation and quality assurance handbook for optometry courses to clarify the existing requirements and improve governance. This new version is an interim step before the GOC’s education strategic review.

Alistair Bridge updated Council on the GOC’s efforts to secure legislative reform after the Professional Accountability Bill was not included in the Queen’s Speech. Legislative reform is important for the GOC to change the way it regulates optical businesses and students, as well as to speed up the complaints-handling process.

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact:

Simon Grier
Communications Manager
General Optical Council
t: 020 7307 3478
e: sgrier@optical.org

Notes to editors

1. Council papers are available to access at: https://www.optical.org/en/get-involved/Council_meetings_and_papers/index.cfm

About the General Optical Council:                                               

The GOC is the regulator for the optical professions in the UK. Its purpose is to protect the public by promoting high standards of education, performance and conduct amongst opticians. The Council currently registers around 28,000 optometrists, dispensing opticians, student opticians and optical businesses.

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