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Vital expertise

From professional conduct, to the Educational Strategic Review, to business regulations, the AOP is holding the GOC to account, explains Henrietta Alderman

22 Mar 2019 by Henrietta Alderman

At the AOP, we are very proud of our wide range of member services and benefits, but above all things we are the leading defence organisation in the sector. With a membership of over 82% of registered optometrists, I can say that with confidence.

I can also say with confidence that members who have had cause to contact us for assistance with clinical negligence or regulatory concerns are left in no doubt that the AOP is looking after their best interests. We are the only organisation with in-house lawyers: currently a team of 10. The level of expertise is huge.

The AOP director of legal and regulatory services, Ella Franci, oversees our four legal workstreams, with Dejan Mladenovic heading the professional discipline activity. One aspect of that work is to keep a dialogue going with the General Optical Council (GOC) to push the interests of our members. The GOC has a backlog of cases to work through and any delay in the process can add to the stress of members who are subject to allegations. We are keen to keep that stress to a minimum.

We also influence in a more global sense by leading on key issues of concern to the profession. For example, we hosted an evening, in conjunction with the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers, with the chairman and vice chairman of the Williams Review of gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare. The review’s recommendations have the potential to improve outcomes for AOP’s members, not only in gross negligence manslaughter investigations but also in civil and regulatory cases.

“Members who have had cause to contact us for assistance with clinical negligence or regulatory concerns are left in no doubt that the AOP is looking after their best interests”

The review said that the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) should review healthcare professional regulators’ FTP work and recommend any changes needed to improve consistency, for example in areas such as use of expert witnesses. We respond to PSA consultations on our regulator’s performance because the PSA is the main organisation that can point out if the GOC needs to improve.

The GOC is very much in the spotlight in 2019 and not just for how it undertakes its regulatory function. Its third Education Strategic Review consultation closed at the end of February. That consultation was the first to look at the details of how future optometrists and dispensing opticians will be trained. Our policy team, led by policy director, Tony Stafford, has canvassed members views through meetings, roundtable events and with considerable input from the AOP policy committee and Council. And we found a very high level of debate on our community forums. Thank you to everyone who contributed, in whatever way.

We have also commented on GOC proposals on business regulation. We have recognised the potential for business regulation to protect individual members from unwarranted commercial pressures. At the same time, we have pointed out that business regulation needs to be proportionate, and not place too great a burden on small optical businesses.

Fiona Mitchell and Gerda Goldinger

This perspective piece, written for the April Legal and Regulatory edition of OT, could not end without acknowledging our grateful thanks to Gerda Goldinger and Fiona Mitchell (pictured above) who retired at the end of February. The AOP owes them a debt of gratitude for all they have done in helping to develop the AOP legal team into the formidable force that it is today.

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