Optometry handbook changes: College of Optometrists supports temporary extensions

The College shared that the temporary changes had been “invaluable” in allowing the progression of pre-registration optometrists through the Scheme for Registration during the pandemic

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The College of Optometrists has written to the General Optical Council (GOC) in support of an extension to temporary changes made to the Optometry Handbook and Supervision policy last year. 

The College’s director of education, Professor Lizzy Ostler, has written to the director of education for the GOC, Leonie Milliner, to outline the organisation’s support for the extension of these changes.

The College emphasised its support for the extension of temporary changes relating to the GOC stage 2, which applies to trainees enrolling on the Scheme for Registration before 30 May 2021.

Outlining the reasons for its support, the College said the temporary changes had been “invaluable in allowing pre-registration trainees to progress through to the Scheme for Registration during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The extension of these changes will ensure clarity for both current pre-registration trainees and future graduates, and continue to support a safe and COVID-secure route to registration,” the College shared.

Reflecting contemporary practice and increasing capacity

Among the changes, the College also highlighted the importance of continuing changes to stage 2 patient experience requirements and the supervision policy.

As part of its temporary changes last year, the GOC adjusted the patient experience requirements from 350 refractions, 200 dispenses and 30 contact lenses, to 520 patient encounters.

The College commented that this enabled the Scheme for Registration to “recognise the appropriate ranges and diversity of trainee experience,” adding that is also allowed the Scheme to “better ensure that trainees gain both sufficient breadth and quality of experience by specifying both categories and characteristics of experience that reflect contemporary practice.”

While it had been “alert” to any concerns, the College shared that it had only received positive responses to this temporary change.

“Given the inflexible and historic nature of the pre-COVID patient experience requirements, the College supports this temporary change to the optometry handbook becoming permanent,” the College shared.

The changes to the GOC’s supervision policy also allowed for greater flexibility in supervision arrangements, something the College suggested would be beneficial as a permanent change to the handbook. These adjustments increased the maximum number of trainees per supervisor to three, as well as extending who could be permitted to supervise students, provided they met certain criteria.

This change has increased supervision capacity, the College said, “without any reports of detriment to the supervisory experience,” adding that it had been able to enrol 87% of 2020 graduates on the Scheme for Registration, with a further 4% expected to start in July 2021.

“Whilst we recognise that this still leaves around 70 trainees without a placement, this is much higher than we had originally anticipated, and is in large part down to the additional capacity offered by experienced supervisors, generated by the change,” the organisation shared.

The College shared its support for this temporary adjustment also becoming a permanent change to the handbook, “Given the increasing numbers of both optometry degree courses and students.”

“By extending this change on an indefinite basis, the GOC would be enabling a much-needed overall increase in supervisor and placement capacity, underpinning likely future workforce demands,” the College shared.

The journey towards registration

The College noted that progression into the route to registration was, “in large part,” enabled by the ability for students to trail GOC stage 1 competencies into the Scheme for Registration.

The organisation confirmed plans to undertake a full review of the progress and performance of trainees with trailing competencies in the next few months, once significant numbers of those trainees who have carried competences will have completed stages one and two the Scheme for Registration.

In the meantime, the College said it would continue to support this change on a temporary basis, “for as long as should be necessary to enable timely progression from GOC stage 1 to stage 2 whilst COVID-19 restrictions impact face-to-face learning activities.” 

Welcoming the proposals: “It is essential certainty is provided”

AOP councillor and pre-registration optometrist, Luke McRoy-Jones, welcomed the move, adding, “At the AOP, we regularly engage with our student, pre-registration, academic and pre-registration supervisor members and as a result, we understand how challenging the past year has been to all those involved in the education and training of optometrists and the high level of uncertainty that still lays ahead.”

With the pandemic still causing “significant uncertainty” through 2021 and 2022 as students progress through their education and training, McRoy-Jones told OT: “It is essential that certainty is provided, at the earliest opportunity, for students, trainees, academic staff and placement providers/employers.”

“I therefore feel it would be too early to return to the pre-COVID handbook at this time,” he added.

The temporary changes have provided greater flexibility for students entering and progressing through the Scheme for Registration, McRoy-Jones suggested, “while maintaining the same high standards and rigour.”

“These changes have somewhat mitigated the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as they have allowed for the vast majority of 2020 graduates to enrol and progress on the Scheme, even with a significant number of trainees from 2019 delayed. This flexibility being continued will help further mitigate delays to trainees and ensure employers (placement providers) are able to accommodate trainees.

“It is clear from speaking with our Student Committee that placement availability is still a key concern amongst current third year students, and the College, GOC and AOP must work to ensure students' progress to registration as an optometrist is not impeded by this and ultimately, placements are available for these students to enrol on,” McRoy-Jones continued.

“Therefore, I am in support of the College’s proposals to the GOC and hope for a positive outcome, to ensure education and training can continue to be delivered in a safe and effective manner, in what are uncertain times,” he said.