Regulator round-up: nine insights from the GOC

A traffic light system for eye care, Black Lives Matter and optics, common complaints, and temporary plans to adapt the Scheme for Registration

GOC reception
The General Optical Council held a remote meeting on Wednesday (15 July) to discuss a range of topics, from the effect of COVID-19 on the GOC’s strategic plan to a proposal by the College of Optometrists to temporarily change the Scheme for Registration in light of the pandemic.

OT presents a summary of the points covered during the meeting.

1) A ‘traffic light’ system for COVID-19 eye care 

The GOC’s interim director of strategy, Marcus Dye, discussed the regulator’s planned approach to providing guidance on the provision of eye care during COVID-19.

This would follow a similar style to the red, amber and green phased guidance produced by the College of Optometrists, with the regulator aiming to implement the system by the end of July.

“What we are planning to do as a regulator is to have a traffic light system going forward as different nations move at different rates and local lockdowns occur,” Mr Dye explained.

2) GOC rejects drop in patient episodes but agrees to temporary change in who can supervise pre-registration optometrists

The optical regulator considered a proposal by the College of Optometrists for temporary changes to the Scheme for Registration in light of COVID-19.

These changes would be valid for one year only and apply to the incoming autumn 2020 cohort of students.

Changes suggested by the College of Optometrists included reducing the number of patient episodes, allowing members of the practice team other than optometrists to act as supervisors and to extend the validity of the Stage One Certificate of Clinical Competence.

The GOC agreed with proposals to allow other members of the practice team to act as supervisors. The optical regulator also recommended that the Stage One Certificate of Clinical Competence for students who graduated in summer 2018 be extended until December 2020.

However, a proposal to significantly reduce the number of patient episodes seen by optometry students was rejected by the GOC.

The College of Optometrists proposed reducing the number of patient episodes from 590 to 250 ‘patient encounters.’

“The panel’s view is that the College’s proposed reduction is too great to allow trainees the repeated and consolidated practice they require,” a meeting document noted.

However, discussions are continuing on alternative requirements for patient episodes between the GOC and the College of Optometrists.

The GOC is holding a two-week consultation on the above proposals.

3) A tribute to the Norville Group

General Optical Council chair, Gareth Hadley, shared his sadness following the news that optical manufacturer, The Norville Group, had entered administration.

The manufacturing side of the business was purchased from administrators by frame manufacturers, Inspecs, while the practice side of the business was acquired by the Hakim Group.

“Registrants tell me that they could look to the Norville Group to produce extraordinarily complex prescriptions,” Mr Hadley said.

“Hopefully the new owner will be able to provide the sort of service to registrants and to patients that Frank Norville and his team did,” he added.

4) Incorrect prescriptions, laser eye surgery and fees: the OCCS reveals common patient complaints 

The Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS) has revealed the most common topics of patient complaints in 2019-2020.

The OCCS provides complaint mediation for the optical sector and is regulated by the GOC. Its annual report for 2019 to 2020 was presented at the July GOC meeting.

The service received 1611 referrals over the year, up 8% from the previous year. The number of referrals in March 2020 dropped below the monthly average of 134 to 104.

“During the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, the OCCS saw a fall in the number of referrals into the service,” the annual report noted.

A small number of COVID-19 related enquiries were received by the OCCS, which mainly related to the closure of practices.

“These enquiries were managed proactively and often involved putting the consumer and practice team in contact,” the report stated.

The most common complaints over the annual report period related incorrect prescriptions (231), laser eye surgery (102), fees (93), eye examination concerns (81) and prescriptions dispensed by a different practice (76).

There was also a total of 11 complaints relating to customers who were excluded from a practice.

“These complaints involve emotive situations, where practices are seeking to protect their practice team and consumers will feel aggrieved,” the OCCS highlighted.

During the year, there were 53 complaints relating to the diagnosis or management of a clinical condition.

The nature of how queries were resolved varied, from refunds (30%) to an explanation (15%) or other means of conciliation (55%) – including offering replacement products, further treatment or a future discount.

5) GOC welcomes PSA response to petition

The GOC has addressed a petition that called for the Professional Standards Authority to investigate the GOC over an alleged conflict of interest.

Speaking at the meeting, GOC chief executive Lesley Longstone welcomed the PSA’s finding that there was no evidence of any serious wrongdoing that would justify further investigation.

Ms Longstone emphasised that the GOC would continue to be “open and transparent” with the PSA going forward.

6) Black Lives Matter: GOC considers anti-racism statement

The significance of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was acknowledged by GOC chief executive, Lesley Longstone.

Embrace, a group within the GOC including staff from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic backgrounds, held a meeting to discuss issues raised by the BLM.

Speaking at the meeting, Ms Longstone shared that Embrace has put forward the idea of the Council publishing an anti-racism statement.

“As well as thinking about the implications of BLM for our internal operations, we are also very keen to think about what the role of a regulator is in relation to these issues in the sector at large. We are really keen to try and encourage and support the sector to work together on this going forward,” she said.

7) GOC to invest in longitudinal research on effectiveness of Education Strategic Review changes

The optical regulator approved plans to spend £315,000 between 2021 and 2029 on research assessing the effectiveness of changes to optometric training introduced by the Education Strategic Review.

The funds would also support the creation of a hub that would bring different stakeholders together to “design innovative, integrated qualifications that meet [GOC] outcomes and standards, reducing the risk of poorly designed programmes failing to meet [GOC] standards.”

8) “A tsunami of applications”: COVID-19 puts spotlight on IP

The value of the independent prescribing qualification amid the pandemic and the challenges of completing the practical component of the course were highlighted at the GOC meeting.

Council member Helen Tilley observed that the number of practitioners wanting to receive IP training had increased following the pandemic.

“WOPEC have had a tsunami of applications to do IP. There aren’t going to be enough hospital placements to absorb the demand for hospital sessions,” Ms Tilley said.

Council member, David Parkins, observed that even before the pandemic, there were many people waiting to complete IP clinical placements having completed the theory aspects of the course.

There are around 1000 practitioners with IP qualifications in the UK, and Dr Parkins expects that this will double in the coming years.

Council member, Roshni Samra, shared that her IP qualification timed out after she was unable to secure a clinical placement despite passing her examinations.

Council member, Josie Forte, observed: “It may surprise us how many people have started the journey without being able to complete it.”

9) GOC outlines priorities in wake of COVID-19

The GOC has outlined the implications of the pandemic for its strategic plan.

The optical regulator put forward suggested amendments to existing work plans to allow the regulator to better respond to COVID-19.

These include a focus on regulatory changes to support more practitioners training in independent prescribing and the consideration of how the regulator should approach remote care going forward.

The GOC also agreed to areas within the strategic plan that could be delayed, cancelled or accelerated if work plans are further impacted by the pandemic.

This includes the potential to delay a review of the Standards of Practice and defer reform of student registration.

The GOC may accelerate research into the differential impact of FTP processes because of the detrimental impact that social and health inequalities have been shown to have on BAME communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.