The General Optical Council (GOC) held its third Council meeting of the year on 27 September 2023. During the meeting, Council discussed the findings of the GOC’s most recent Registrant Workforce and Perceptions Survey and Public Perceptions research. Council also discussed proposals for stakeholder engagement in developing the 2025-30 corporate strategy and approved a set of annual reports.
Registrant Survey and Public Perceptions research 2023
Council discussed the findings of the GOC Registrant Workforce and Perceptions Survey 2023. The annual survey showed optical professionals struggling with high levels of burnout, stress, and disillusionment in their work. About one in seven respondents are considering leaving the profession in the next two years.
Many GOC registrants also reported experiences of workplace bullying, harassment, abuse, and discrimination. These incidents often involved patients and service users, but poor behaviour by managers and colleagues was also reported. Worryingly, respondents frequently felt unable to report their experiences, meaning the behaviour remains unresolved.
The GOC will convene a meeting of senior stakeholders from across the optical sector on 3 October to agree sector-wide commitments to address these issues. Representatives from large employers within the sector, the professional and representative bodies, and optical students have been invited. The GOC have also invited a representative from the pharmacy sector to provide broader insight into the negative working conditions that health and care professionals are experiencing.
The concerning experiences of optical professionals contrasts with those of patients and service users, among whom public confidence and satisfaction remain high at 94%. For the first time, the GOC Public Perceptions research 2023 found that more people would visit their opticians/optometrist practice as a first port of call if they woke up with an emergency eye problem than their GP practice (36% vs 33%). In 2015, these figures were 19% and 54% respectively.
Although overall levels of satisfaction were high, there were stark differences in the experiences of patients from different demographic groups. For example, respondents from ethnic minority backgrounds were more likely to have felt comfortable when visiting an optician/optometrist practice than white respondents, and those with a disability were more likely to say that something went wrong with the care/service they received. The GOC will continue to track data on differences in access and care, and will consider how future surveys or other research can be used to analyse the factors shaping poor experiences.
Both pieces of research will be used to inform the GOC’s Standards Review. The GOC will consult on any changes to its standards in early 2024.
2025-30 Strategy Development: proposed stakeholder engagement
Council also discussed a proposed plan for stakeholder engagement activities to inform the development of the next corporate strategy for 2025-30. Insights from this engagement will support the GOC in developing a strategy that protects the public, upholds public confidence, and ensures robust, appropriate regulation.
The plan features a range of activities throughout the strategy’s development, consultation, and launch phases. Their variation allows for stakeholders with differing time commitments and degrees of interest to be involved throughout the process, while assuaging stakeholder fatigue. Drawing from the difficulties of other regulators in gaining public/patient/consumer perspectives, the GOC will seek the expertise of patient organisations to enhance their understanding of these views.
Council approved the stakeholder engagement plan, subject to minor amendments. At its March 2024 meeting, Council will considering a proposed vision, mission, values, and strategic objectives for the 2025-30 strategy, and will discuss an EDI strategy, ahead of public consultation.
Consultation on removing gender information from the public register
Council approved a proposal to consult on removing information about a registrant’s gender from the public register. This follows the findings of the GOC’s consultation on the process for registrants to update their gender on the register, conducted earlier this year.
Some respondents to the earlier consultation, including the PSA, questioned the need for the GOC to provide information on gender on its register. Key arguments for removing this information include:
• Only information needed to deliver public protection should be on the register. Removing gender information would better align the GOC’s register with the PSA’s pared down approach determined by Standard 10: Information on the rationale for including the information displayed on the register, including legal requirements where applicable.
• The public can ask about gender when making an appointment if this is important to them.
• GOC is in a minority of regulators by publishing this information.
We will continue to collect information about gender (and other protected characteristics) for the purposes of monitoring equality, diversity, and inclusion in the professions.
The consultation document will be issued shortly. Subject to volume and content of responses, its findings will be brought to the March 2024 meeting.
Council approved the Annual Report and Accounts 2022-23, subject to minor amendments.
The report highlights the GOC’s key successes from the past year, including its meeting all 18 Standards of Good Regulation in the Professional Standards Authority (PSA)’s last review. In its review, the PSA highlighted the GOC’s improvements to the timeliness of progression for its fitness to practise cases and its demonstrable commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion.
Other major pieces of work by the GOC in 2022-23 include:
• Proactive preparation for future legislative reform through its call for evidence on changes to the Opticians Act and associated GOC policies;
• Publication of a third and final set of new education and training requirements for approved post-registration qualifications for dispensing opticians training as contact lens opticians; and
• Recruitment of continuing professional development (CPD) provider auditors to support the new three-year CPD scheme.
Council also approved the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion annual report 2022-23 detailing the GOC’s internal and external work to advance EDI, subject to minor amendments. Key projects include the extension of its Council Associate scheme, the modernisation of internal people policies, and ongoing work towards the implementation of new Welsh language standards.
The Audit, Risk, and Finance Committee annual report 2022-23 was noted. All three will be published in due course.