The General Optical Council (GOC) has pushed back timelines for the introduction of a new CET scheme to 2022.
At the GOC’s November council meeting (14 November, London), the optical regulator agreed that a three-year CET cycle will operate under current requirements from 2019.
The GOC’s interim director of education, Dr Subo Shanmuganathan, said that she had been tasked with taking a “fresh look” at the CET changes.
This was done through an evidence-based approach looking at both internal and external evidence, she added.
“I came to the conclusion that it was more feasible, realistic and achievable to aim for delivery in 2022,” she emphasised.
However, this did not mean that all change would be put on hold over the three-year cycle, Dr Shanmuganathan shared.
“In making that recommendation about timescales, what I did not wish to say is ‘Nothing will be happening up to 2022.’ We have an awful lot of work to do,” she said.
The GOC’s head of standards and CET, Marcus Dye, said that while it was right for the GOC to pursue an ambitious programme of change, it was also important to ensure that the project achieved its aim.
While the GOC could deliver a transition year in 2019, implementing significant changes in 2020 could prove more problematic, he highlighted.
“A lot of our stakeholders have told us that six months would not be enough time to adapt to these major changes,” Mr Dye said.
In May, the GOC announced plans for the new framework to be in place by 2020 with a transition year taking place in 2019.
However, documents prepared for the council meeting revealed that there were “significant risks” to this approach.
“The most significant issue we now face is the lack of sufficient time and resources to meet necessary delivery timescales, both for the GOC and for our delivery partners,” the document highlighted.
The briefing paper noted that CET providers had informed the GOC that they needed a minimum of one year’s notice to adapt to a new standards framework.
As part of a risk and impact assessment, the document highlighted that a transition year could increase the risk to the public, as the GOC would not be able to enforce CET requirements or remove registrants from the GOC register for non-compliance.
The paper also noted that while a transition year is not prohibited, it may open up the optical regulator to challenge by judicial review, which could prove costly and result in reputational damage.
Feedback during consultation on the plan for a transition year revealed that some groups of registrants would struggle to achieve 12 points over the year – for example, those on maternity leave, optometrists working part-time and those living in rural areas.
Speaking at the meeting, GOC council member, Mike Galvin, said that while he supported going ahead with a three-year cycle instead of a transition year, the GOC should use the opportunity to consider the course of events.
“I think we need to reflect on why we are in this position now in November and look at how we might build in some safeguards so that we don’t end up in the same position in November 2021,” he said.
Following the meeting, the AOP’s chief executive, Henrietta Alderman, said: “We are keen to see the GOC’s CET scheme become more flexible and self-directed, to support optical professionals in taking on expanded clinical roles.”
“But during the past six months we have become increasingly concerned that the GOC would not meet the ambitious reform timetable it had set itself. In September we urged the GOC to urgently review whether it could deliver reforms in time for 2020 and advised that if not, it should drop its plans for a transitional year,” she observed.
“We are pleased that the GOC listened to our advice and has now reset the timetable. We look forward to working with the new leadership team at the GOC to ensure that the new scheme, to be introduced in 2022, is as effective as possible,” Ms Alderman added.
“However, while we welcome the GOC’s decision, it has come very late for education providers and practitioners. We hope and expect that the GOC will learn lessons about the need for its major policy projects to be carefully planned, given the impact that late changes can have on us and those they regulate. The AOP will now work with our members to ensure that they are clear about what they will need to do to meet the GOC’s requirements in January and beyond,” Ms Alderman concluded.