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GOC publishes COVID-19 statement consultation response

The General Optical Council has also released a set of updated statements, which now align with the College of Optometrists’ red-amber-green phase system

sight test
Getty/Vasyl Dolmatov
The General Optical Council (GOC) has published a response on its COVID-19 statement consultations, along with a set of updated statements considering feedback and indicating under which phases of the pandemic they apply.

The COVID-19 statements were published during the pandemic with the aim of removing unnecessary regulatory barriers, clarifying certain areas of practice and bolstering guidance on the GOC’s standards. The statements will now be aligned to the College of Optometrists’ red-amber-green phase system.

The GOC explained that this was done to reduce the number of different reference points for registrants and to ensure its expectations “can be more clearly linked to the guidance being offered by the professional associations.”

The update follows the GOC’s consultation last year, which sought feedback on the content and impact of all the COVID-19 statements, as well as how these should apply going forwards.

The statements are marked clearly with what phase it applies in and the statements have also been updated following an analysis of the consultation responses.

Thanking the consultation respondents, Marcus Dye, GOC acting director of strategy, said: “The responses helped us to ensure that our statements continue to support registrants in delivering patient care effectively during the pandemic.”

Statement updates

Commenting on the consultation response, Ella Franci, AOP legal and regulatory services director, said: “We are pleased to see that the GOC have addressed many of the points we raised as part of the consultation process.”

The AOP particularly highlighted an update to the GOC’s statement on its approach to fitness to practise for the service of documents and facilitating hearings during COVID-19.

Franci explained: “Some steps taken during the pandemic, such as sending notices by email without written consent, posed significant risks to our members as well as members of the public, and were deeply concerning. We strongly opposed this action at the time and, despite being the only organisation in the sector to raise these concerns, the GOC has recognised the issues, has rightly withdrawn the statement and changed its policy and is telling registrants they are now complying with the relevant legislation.

“The GOC has said it plans to publish a new policy in relation to electronic notices and we will monitor these developments, feeding in at the earliest opportunity.”

Dye also commented on the update, confirming in a statement: “As we move out of the more restrictive lockdown measures we have been in and more of our staff return to the office, we will now only be serving statutory notices electronically where we have consent from the registrant to do so.”

Two of the COVID-19 statements will now only apply in the red phase of the pandemic, these being the statement on the supply of spectacles and contact lenses and the statement on verification of contact lens specifications.

Reflecting on the current position in the UK and taking onboard consultation feedback, the GOC suggested that with most optical practices open and contactable and routine primary care available, as well as shielding requirements at an end, these statements should only apply during the red phase of the pandemic.

The GOC did add that it would revisit the decision regarding the supply of spectacles and contact lenses if shielding were to be reintroduced during the amber phase. Responding to comments on the statement for the verification of contact lens specifications, the regulator also suggested it intends to consider “how legislation related to contact lenses in general needs to develop in future as part of our legislative reform project in 2021.” More on this can be found in the GOC’s consultation response.

Time to prepare

To provide registrants time to prepare, the majority of the updated statements will take effect from 21 June.

This is with the exception of four of the statements relating to internal GOC functions which will come into effect as of 28 May. This includes those statements on the GOC’s functions of education, CET, fitness to practise, and registration.

Dye added: “We will continue to take the consultation feedback into account as we reflect on our response to COVID-19 and any further guidance that might be required to assist registrants delivering patient care in the future.”

The GOC’s consultation response and updated statements can be read online. The older versions of the statements and those that no longer apply will be archived.

Get in touch with the OT team to share your comments or questions about the updated COVID-19 statements.