Addressing the challenge of an increasing number of fitness to practise cases was a key topic at the General Optical Council (GOC) meeting (February 22, London).
A rise in the volume of fitness to practise (FTP) cases has resulted in a 30% increase in expenditure over the past year, a paper presented to the council revealed.
It was noted that the increase in FTP expenditure was compounded by the impact of changes in the way the cases were handled.
“We are therefore effectively planning expenditure for 12 months under the new methodology, plus the costs of closing the backlog of old cases within the same year,” the document highlighted.
GOC chair, Gareth Hadley, emphasised that while all health care regulators had problems with a long trail of fitness to practise complaints and cases, this was not a justification for delaying to address the issue.
It was not acceptable for complainants and the subjects of complaints to have cases looming over them for years, he emphasised.
Mr Hadley raised the point that the GOC should not be “wedded” to planned reserve levels, if it meant compromising on the delivery of key projects. Important initiatives should not be starved of funds, he emphasised.
“Are we husbanding reserves in such a way that we might jeopardise delivery on the education review or other projects?”
Council members considered a proposal to consolidate the GOC’s six reserve strands into three.
A plan was mooted to use, or add to, a legal reserve pool, depending on how caseload expenditure compared to an average level of expenditure over previous years.
GOC director of resources, Mark Webster, said the changes would account for expenditure increases as a result of fluctuations in the number of cases and complaints that the optical regulator received.
“If [expenditure on FTP] goes up 30% it’s very difficult for us to mitigate that within one year,” he said
However, council member, Peter Douglas, disagreed with the planned change to the use of legal reserves.
“A reserve should be used for out-of-the-ordinary occurrences,” he emphasised.
“[FTP expenditure] is a number that is difficult to control but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be trying very hard to manage it properly,” he added.
Mr Douglas contended that, if the GOC went over budget on FTP expenditure, it should draw from general, rather than legal, reserves.
The council decided to further consider changes to the reserves policy, and come back to it at its next meeting.
At the meeting, the Council also approved the publication of supplementary guidance on consent as a complement to the Standards of Practice for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians and Standards for Optical Students.
The guidance provides information on how to meet the GOC’s standard of consent. It does not create a new requirement or offer legal advice.
The document details principles of consent, types of consent, obtaining valid consent, and refusing, withdrawing and recording consent.
There is further information on capacity, consent in emergencies and consent to share patient information, as well as the legal framework around consent.
Council member Glenn Tomison highlighted that consent was at the heart of a health care model where patients were at the centre of practice.
“The paternalistic method of practice is hopefully a thing of the past,” he emphasised.
After a substantial amount of work had been put in to refine the guidelines, Mr Tomison emphasised that the guidance was ready for publication.
“I think it’s good to go now. It seems very practical. As a practitioner, I can use it quite easily.”
Applications for top role
The GOC has received 36 applications for the role of chief executive and registrar.
The current chief executive and registrar, Samantha Peters, has tendered her resignation and will step down in June. Ms Peters joined the GOC in 2011.
Papers presented to the GOC meeting state that stage one and two interviews for the role will be held in March.
The next GOC meeting will be held on 10 May, 2017.