GOC draft strategy a focus at AOP Council

AOP Councillors discussed elements of the GOC’s draft strategy 2025–2030 in a meeting on 5 June

A photo taken during the AOP Council meeting
Will Amlot

Elements of the General Optical Council’s (GOC) draft strategy 2025–2030 regarding agile regulation, post-registration qualifications, and the continuing professional development (CPD) scheme were focuses of the latest AOP Council.

Held on 5 June at the AOP offices, the AOP Council welcomed a number of new faces as recently-elected Councillors took up their posts.

OT gathered some key insight and takeaways from the Council discussions.

1 Highlighting the role of optometry ahead of the election

Adam Sampson, chief executive of the AOP, began the meeting by outlining a number of key focuses for the AOP Council and Board this year, including the upcoming general election.

The approach to the elections is divided between short-term goals, such as highlighting to policymakers the need for better IT connectivity between primary care optometry and secondary care, as well as longer-term ambitions for primary eye care.

This requires looking at what is working well across the devolved nations, he noted.

“Let’s not just think tactically, but strategically over the next decade,” Sampson said. He told Councillors: “These big ideas are absolutely what we want from you, especially from fresh new Councillors.”

Karen Gennard, AOP Councillor for the South West of England, asked what Councillors could be doing in their local areas ahead of the election, and also highlighted the importance of incorporating health inequalities into the discussion.

Sampson emphasised connecting with local MPs with key messages on eye care waiting lists, such as outlined in the AOP’s Sight Won’t Wait campaign, supported by potential solutions, such as the AOP’s asks around IT connectivity.

He highlighted the effect of sharing real examples from practice, commenting: “People don’t remember facts, but stories.”

2 Discussing agile regulation

Dr Peter Hampson, AOP clinical and professional director, led a workshop to gather views on the GOC’s draft strategy for 2025–2030.

The GOC is running a consultation on the draft strategy, which will guide the regulator’s work over a five-year period between 1 April 2025 and 31 March 2030.

The AOP Council discussion will inform the AOP’s response to the consultation.

The workshop focused on three aspects of the strategy, including the objective of Preventing harm through agile regulation, asking Councillors to share their views on potential advantages, concerns, and risks of this approach.

Councillors recognised the positives of agile regulation, pointing to the flexibility required during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Feeding back from a group discussion, Erica Campbell Walker, AOP Councillor for Scotland, shared that regulation should not be reactive, but proactive.

However, she noted potential risks involved in decisions being made too quickly, and without all of the relevant information, commenting: “If you open the door, how do you close it after?”

Speaking on behalf of a discussion group, Johnathan Waugh, AOP Councillor for Scotland, questioned what definition of ‘agile’ the GOC would be using, and what this would mean in terms of regulation, suggesting: “Agility feels rapid and not well-thought through and could lead to confusion.”

“Regulation should be stable and clear. Shifting sands aren’t helpful or reassuring for professionals,” Waugh added, suggesting that ‘responsive’ could be a better term.

Concerns were noted about the challenges that professionals returning from career breaks might face.

3 Approaches to post-registration qualifications

The workshop also explored objective two of the GOC’s draft strategy, Supporting responsible innovation and protecting the public, and its priority of: “Supporting registrants to deliver more clinical eye care by realising the full benefits of our education and training reforms and taking a more strategic approach to post-registration qualifications.”

The AOP Council was encouraged to consider whether post-registration qualifications should be under the remit of the GOC, and whether the GOC should consider additional specialist registers, such as that for independent prescribing (IP) optometrists and contact lens dispensing opticians.

Councillors recognised the benefits of having qualifications searchable by the public, and pointed out that some post nominals are listed on the GOC’s register. However, Councillors suggested that this is not consistent, and this could make it difficult for the public to search through the list currently.

Dr Vijay Anand, AOP Councillor representing hospital optometrists, fed back from a group discussion on the value in having a list of higher qualifications demonstrating specialisms in the field, particularly when it comes to talking to service commissioners.

He questioned, though, how individuals could be quality assured, providing the example that IP-qualified optometrists are required to undertake more CPD, which incurs additional costs for the individual.

Anand also questioned what additional registers would mean for optometrists with extensive experience in specialist clinics but without formal professional certifications: “Does this mean they can’t be on the list? Is this a disservice to their experience?”

Simon Raw, AOP Councillor for the North East of England, suggested changes may encourage more upskilling, which would support the profession when tendering for more services in primary eye care.

Will Holmes suggested the GOC may not have the capacity to regulate additional registers and noted that other professional regulators do not regulate post-registration qualifications.

4 Reflecting on the change to CPD

The final third of the workshop focused on another of the GOC’s priorities: “reforming our CPD system so that it focuses on the quality rather than quantity of professional development and supports the expanded clinical roles registrants will perform within service redesign.”

Councillors reflected on the transition from continuing education and training (CET) to CPD and what changes they would like to see going forward.

Dr Rachel Hiscox, AOP Councillor in the South East of England, noted that the CPD scheme had moved responsibility for uploading evidence and points onto registrants.

“The theory is sound – you should be developing based on your scope of practice,” Hiscox said. However, she suggested that some registrants have struggled to keep track of their points under the new scheme.

Councillors appeared to agree that the administration and time taken to record CPD has become a hurdle to recording evidence for all of the education they have undertaken.

Karan Vyas, AOP Councillor representing employees of multiple practices, suggested the theory behind the personal development plan (PDP) is a good idea to: “Structure a practitioner’s learning and achievements and prevent them from getting stuck in a rut.”

Undertaking the process could also encourage optometrists to consider post-registration qualifications, Vyas suggested.

Councillors also recognised that it is now easier to undertake self-directed CPD and that points can be claimed for education and training that would not have recognised under the previous scheme.

Raw noted that, as a domiciliary optometrist, under the CET scheme he was required to achieve points in competencies that were less relevant to him, whereas under CPD he can tailor training to focus on topics more applicable to his role, such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.

He added that CPD could focus more on non-optical skills, such as management, general first aid, ethics, and legal topics.

Holmes pointed out if optometry is to be viewed in the same way as other healthcare professions, such as pharmacists and dentists, "then we need to be engaged in CPD in a way that is similar.”

5 Recognition for dispensing opticians

Councillors discussed the issues surrounding CPD for dispensing opticians, particularly the lack of funding.

Sarah White, AOP Councillor for dispensing opticians, shared: “Funding is a massive inhibitor for a lot of people. They are swimming upstream and so are more reluctant to do more than they need to due to funding. That means that some dispensing opticians are not reaching their full potential.”

White also pointed to a need for protected time during work to access CPD as funding currently is unlikely, suggesting that in providing protected time: “It would be enough for dispensing opticians to know that they are recognised. That recognition is an important thing.”

6 Welcoming a new AOP Board member

The Council had the opportunity to vote to elect a Councillor to the AOP Board.

Paul Chapman-Hatchett, AOP Councillor for domiciliary care optometrists, was elected to the AOP Board.

Thanking the Council, he said: “Like everybody here I am fiercely proud of the AOP and have been a member all of my professional career. I’m looking forward to listening, learning and hopefully adding value to the AOP moving forward.”

Read more about the newly appointed AOP Board members on OT and learn more about the role of the AOP Board here.