GOC Fitness to Practise hearing - Defending a member against an allegation of misconduct

Registered optometrist Mary's story

What happened

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Registered optometrist, Mary (not her real name), saw a new patient, a primary school-aged child, whose mother brought them in for an NHS examination. The mother explained that her child had begun to experience a squint some months ago, had been seen at a hospital A&E department and given a prescription for glasses. She told Mary that she was unhappy that her child was constantly peering over their glasses and wanted to know if anything else could be done.   

Mary performed an examination on the child and prescribed bifocals which they wore for a few weeks. However, the child subsequently began looking over their glasses again, and started complaining of double vision.

The child’s mother told Mary that the hospital had mentioned surgery as an option, but that she had researched vision therapy online, and following several phone calls and visits to Mary in practice, decided to start vision therapy. Mary explained to the mother what vision therapy sessions entailed and that there was no guarantee of seeing any improvement in the child’s squint.

Over the following six months while under Mary’s care, the child’s vision did not deteriorate, and their bilateral skills improved. However, at a subsequent hospital appointment, it was noted that the child’s squint had increased, and the hospital consultant told the mother this was due to the prescription prescribed by Mary. It was only after the child’s mother shared this hospital report with Mary, that she realized the hospital were still looking after her patient and Mary informed the mother that she couldn’t continue with her child’s care while they were still under the care of the hospital. 

The mother subsequently made a complaint to the GOC that the prescription prescribed by Mary had caused her child’s squint to worsen, and that Mary had inappropriately interfered with hospital treatment. 

The case was brought to a Fitness to Practise hearing. 

How we helped

We advised Mary as soon as she contacted us with details of the complaint. We helped her to set out the background information to the case and the reasons for her actions.

We advised her to start implementing changes to her practice, including recording notes of all new patient enquiries, and informing patients and carers that she could not see them while they were under the care of a consultant at a hospital. We also advised her to gather witness statements in support of her from colleagues and other patients, and to undertake relevant CET and other courses as remedial action.

We represented Mary at the Fitness to Practise hearing, submitting her witness statements and arguing that her actions were not serious enough to constitute misconduct and that she was not impaired to practise.

The outcome

Following submissions on whether Mary's care impacted negatively on the patient's squint, two of five allegations were dropped, and the remaining allegations were not contested in view of the changes Mary had made to her practice in the two years and nine months preceding the hearing, and the reflection and insight she had demonstrated. The GOC committee found that the facts of the case could not support a finding of impairment.