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News from the GOC

The General Optical Council (GOC) held its second Council meeting of the year on 28 June 2023. The agenda included discussion on the proposed approach for developing the GOC’s next five-year strategy, approving the next steps following an analysis of call for evidence responses, considering whether the GOC should require Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks for registrants, and approving a new Internal Investigations policy.

In addition, Council received the Annual Monitoring and Reporting (AMR) Sector Report for the academic year 2021-22 and the Optical Consumer Complaints Service’s (OCCS) Annual Report for 2022-23.

GOC strategy 2025-30

Council noted the proposed approach and timescale for the development of the GOC’s 2025-30 strategy (working title ‘Shaping the Future’).

It will replace the current strategic plan, ‘Fit for the Future 2020-25′, and will have a new vision, mission and strategic objectives. The strategy will contain complementary documents which will direct the GOC’s activity as an organisation, including:

  • Equality, diversity and inclusion strategy
  • Financial strategy and reserves policy
  • Digital strategy
  • People plan
  • Business performance reporting framework

Council is scheduled to approve the proposed vision, mission, values and strategic objectives for the 2025-30 strategy in December 2024.

In the meantime, there will be opportunities for the public, registrants, Committee members, GOC employees and other key stakeholders to shape the new strategy. The timeline will be further refined as this engagement takes place.

A strategy coordination group (SCG) will co-ordinate the groundwork required to produce the documents that will form the new strategy.

Council also appointed Clare Minchington, Senior Council Member, as the Council lead for strategic development. This role will include providing non-executive insight and expertise for the purposes of strategic planning and development, and acting as a sounding board in advance of proposals being discussed by full Council.

Call for evidence next steps

Council approved plans and timescales to take forward commitments made following the GOC’s response to the 2022 call for evidence and consultation on associated GOC policies, published in April 2023.

The call for evidence took place between March and July 2022 and sought views, information and factual evidence on the need for changes to the Opticians Act and associated GOC policies. It sits alongside the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) ongoing consultation designed to modernise the regulatory frameworks for fitness to practise, education, registration, and governance across all healthcare regulators.

Several workstreams have arisen from these commitments, the most complex being updating the 2013 statement on the testing of sight and developing a new model of business regulation.

Approximate consultation dates for the workstreams include:

  • Autumn 2023 – consulting on position statements relating to the verification of contact lens specification and spectacle prescription, and the definition of aftercare;
  • Winter 2024 – consulting on reviewing GOC standards in the areas of dispensing to vulnerable patients and use of technology;
  • Spring 2024 – consulting on developing a new model for business regulation.

Research options to underpin updating the 2013 statement on the testing of sight were discussed and the team will now do further scoping work on this.

After these consultations have taken place, the GOC will consult on other areas of work that are more technical and less urgent such as the definition of low vision, wording of protected titles, and regulations related to criteria for visual impairment.

It may be some years before the GOC’s legislation is reformed, with a consultation from the DHSC on GOC legislation anticipated no later than 2026-2027, subject to external events.

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks for registrants

Council considered a referral from the Registration Committee (which, amongst other matters, provides advice on making or revising rules regarding the nature of the information contained on the GOC’s register) on whether the GOC should require proof of DBS checks for registrants.

A DBS check is a record of a person’s criminal convictions and cautions. The GOC does not currently require applicants to the register to provide a DBS check.

Council agreed to continue the GOC’s existing approach and consider the issue again once the Government’s and Professional Standards Authority’s (PSA) policy direction are known. The benefit of doing so will ensure that the GOC develops its proposals in a manner that is consistent with the Government and PSA’s expectations of regulators.

The Government are yet to respond to the Bailey Review, an Independent Review of the disclosure and barring regime which was commissioned in February 2022 and made recommendations in April 2023. Meanwhile, the PSA’s recent strategic plan confirmed its intention to consider how safeguarding checks are used across regulators and to ensure appropriate protection for patients and service users, with 2023-24 earmarked for this work.

In the meantime, enhancing businesses’ and registrants’ understanding of their duties in respect to safeguarding risks can be supported through the current standards review and communication activities.

 Annual Monitoring and Reporting (AMR) Sector Report 2021-22

Council noted the AMR Sector Report for the academic year 2021-22, which forms part of the GOC’s Approval and Quality Assurance (A&QA) cycle for all education providers offering GOC-approved qualifications.

The AMR enables the GOC to carry out sector-wide analysis of education provider’s programmes and to identify key themes, trends and risks.

Key findings in the 2021-22 report include:

  • Just under half of dispensing optics and optometry qualifications aim to start their qualification adaptations or new qualifications designed to meet the GOC’s Education and Training requirements (ETR) in September 2023.
  • Applications for optometry (OO) programmes remained buoyant in 2021/22 but fell slightly in 2022/23, whilst applications for dispensing optics (DO) programmes increased significantly in 2021/22 and rose further in 2022/23. Interest for independent prescribing (IP) courses has fallen since the previous year but remains substantial, whilst numbers on contact lens optician (CLO) courses have been stable over the past three years.
  • Attainment data provided by the awarding bodies shows that the pass rate for OO courses decreased slightly but remained high, whilst the rate fell significantly for DO courses. IP pass rates remained high, while the attainment rate for CLO increased.

The full report is due to be published in August 2023.

Internal Investigations policy

Council approved a new Internal Investigations Policy, which applies to all internal investigations carried out after receiving a concern or allegation, including those that may be about Committees members or workers.

The policy updates include:

  • specific provisions around the threshold for investigations concerning complaints about members, and limiting the risk of frivolous or inappropriate complaints about individual members resulting in formal investigation;
  • additional wording to outline the expectation on members, workers and employees who are GOC registrants to also abide by their obligations under the GOC standards and policies applicable to them as a registrant; and
  • more realistic timescales and the requirement to approve allegations with the person raising the complaint.

The provisions related to member complaints are intended to recognise that members are effectively public figures and will be subject to a higher level of scrutiny as a result.

The revisions are also proposed to provide clarity to the public about the reasons the GOC might decline to formally investigate a complaint regarding a member.

Optical Consumer Complaints Service’s (OCCS) Annual Report 2022-2023: ‘Mediation and the New Normal’

 Council noted the annual report from the OCCS, which acts as a mediation service between consumers and optical practices on a variety of lower-level complaints which may otherwise be received by the GOC’s fitness to practise team. Law firm Nockolds have delivered the service since 2014.

The report shows that almost a fifth of concerns received by the GOC in 2022-23 were referred to the OCCS for a mediated resolution. 94 per cent of referrals received were resolved or concluded within OCCS mediation. The OCCS received a total of 1,707 complaints in 2022-23, representing a 2 per cent decrease compared to 2021-22.

Of the complaints that were resolved using mediation, the greatest share was attributed to the category of goods and services, representing a 10 per cent increase when compared with last year.

The full report will be available soon on the OCCS website.

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