What’s happeningAll optometrists working in the UK have to register with the General Optical Council (GOC) and undertake regular Continued Education and Training (CET) to keep their skills up to date. Optometrists who provide NHS sight tests can claim a grant each year to help cover the expenses involved in CET.
Under the current system for paying CET grants in England and Wales, every individual optometrist has to claim the payment through an NHS contractor, such as their employer. The process of claiming the grant takes time, and some people – especially those who work as locums – can struggle to find a contractor willing to administer their grant claim. That means they lose out on money they’re entitled to, through no fault of their own. The system in Scotland and Northern Ireland allows individuals to apply for the grant directly, which is simpler and fairer.
Some optometrists are given paid time off by their employer to complete CET, and then find that their employer retains the CET grant payment. That isn’t unreasonable as long as the benefit in kind that the employer has provided to the individual is worth at least as much as the value of the grant. However, where this happens we think the employer should explain in advance what it is doing and why.
Some optometrists work in hospitals, in multi-disciplinary teams providing a range of eye healthcare. Many do not regularly perform NHS sight tests, and so cannot claim the CET grant. Some hospitals give their optometrists other kinds of support to complete their CET, such as paid time off, but others may not – and again, that is unfair on the people concerned.
What needs to change
We want to see the CET grant process in England and Wales brought into line with the system in the rest of the UK, so that every optometrist who meets the qualifying requirements for the grant can claim it directly from the NHS. This simple change would ensure fair treatment for everyone, including locums who make up a growing part of the optometry workforce.
If this change is made, then in cases where an NHS contractor gives people paid time off to help them meet their CET requirement, they would have to agree between them whether the CET grant should be paid back to the contractor to help cover the costs.
Hospitals that employ optometrists should either ensure they provide paid time off to support people in meeting their CET requirement, or encourage them to do some GOS sight tests each year so that they qualify for the grant payment.
1 References to ‘NHS sight tests’ in this position statement are to sight tests performed under the NHS General Optical Services (GOS) contract in community optical practices or domiciliary settings
Position statement revised: May 2019