The general public of Scotland is more likely to see optometrists as a first port of call for their eye health, members of the General Optical Council (GOC) heard at its latest meeting (26 July, London).
The result – that a third of Scottish compared to a fifth of English people would go to an optometry practice first with an eye health concern – was from the public perceptions survey conducted for the GOC by market research company Enventure.
Council member, Fiona Peel, described this as evidence that, if the profession did invest in enhanced services, then the public would adjust their behaviour accordingly.
Fellow member, Rosie Glazebrook, also floated the idea of mandatory displays of qualification to boost the clinical role that optometrists played.
The 3200-strong survey, combining online questionnaire and telephone interview results, was the second time such research had been done.
Last year’s survey found that 19% of people across the UK would visit an optometry practice first, a figure that rose to 22% in 2016. However, this rise could be because of a change of methodology, the council members heard.
The research also found that the public that 40% of people visiting a practice thought of themselves as a customer, while 37% felt they were both a customer and a patient, with the rest considering themselves a patient.
Qualitative results demonstrated that the more a member of the public had heard of enhanced services in practice, the more likely they were to feel that the profession was primarily a healthcare, rather than a retail, experience.
One decisive result from the survey is the finding that 96% of people who had visited an optometry practice in the last two years were satisfied with the service.
Yet council chair, Gareth Hadley, highlighted that most patients may not be able to discern a mediocre sight test from a high-quality one. He emphasised: “I hope the profession and the representative bodies don’t take it as a cause for complacency in these challenging times.”
However, public knowledge of both optical regulation and regulators was low. People also reported that, with extras such as lens treatments, they experienced some confusion about the final costs of spectacles.
GOC strategy director, Alistair Bridge, said it was important that the public is able to find the right channels for complaints, such as the GOC and the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS). He also noted the efforts to publicise the OCCS through a poster campaign and the GOC through the use of the logo in registered businesses.
The Enventure research will be compared to the results of the registrant survey, and used to inform GOC work in the future.
The GOC meeting also approved the accreditation of the foundation degree in ophthalmic dispensing at Anglia Ruskin University, and provisionally approved the masters in optometry at Portsmouth University and the post-graduate certificate in therapeutic prescribing at Cardiff University.
The members also heard of the work to more clearly define how the GOC’s committee makes decisions on education accreditation and quality assurance.
Education committee member, Fiona Peel, explained that: “I think greater clarity will make [the committee’s tasks] easier. However, education is changing so this framework will have to stay on its feet, so to speak.”
The council members also bid farewell to retiring remuneration committee chair, Brian Coulter, and outgoing resources director, Josie Lloyd.
Mr Coulter spoke of his pride in seeing the GOC becoming one of the most highly respected regulators during his time with the organisation.
The next GOC meeting will be held on 16 November.