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Speak up about concerns in practice

Head of policy and standards at the GOC, Marie Bunby, explains how registrants should approach raising a concern after witnessing a potentially dangerous situation

whistleblower
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When trying to identify whether a situation is serious enough to speak up about, the first questions you should consider are whether you believe patient or public safety is or may be at risk as a result of the thing that they are concerned about; or whether they have propriety concerns, such as observing something that appears seriously wrong or is not in accordance with accepted standards. If there is concern that patients and/or the public are at risk of death or serious harm, then you must speak up without delay.

Another question to ask yourself is whether resolving the concern is within your control. If it is something that could be put right within the scope of your role as an optical professional, you should take the necessary actions.

Marie
Marie Bunby
If that is not the case, registrants must speak up, even if there is fear of an adverse impact as a result of doing so. It is important for registrants to remember that their professional duty to protect patients and the public must come first.

Escalating issues

There are two options when it comes to speaking to the person or organisation who has authority to take action:

  • The concern can be dealt with at a local level, such as with the person concerned, line manager or senior management, or through another organisation where the concern arises
  • If you are unable to resolve the issue, or if the issue is so serious as to merit immediate referral, you should consider escalating your concerns by alerting a Freedom to Speak Up Guardian, your local optical committee, employer, someone within your local NHS trust, or a prescribed person or organisation. 

Section C of our ‘Speaking up’ guidance has more detail about dealing with issues at a local level or escalating concerns. 

After speaking up

If you have spoken up to your employer, we advise checking your organisational policy to see what should happen next. The organisation might be able to let you know directly when it has put matters right. In other circumstances (for example, if there are confidential matters relating to another individual) they may not be able to keep you updated. If the employer does not attempt to put matters right, or they attempt to but patient or public safety is or may still be at risk, registrants should speak up to a prescribed person or organisation. We have listed sources of further advice in section G of the ‘Speaking up’ guidance

Contacting the GOC

If someone has spoken up to the General Optical Council, we will either investigate, or if we do not have the power to investigate ourselves we will direct you to the appropriate authority that can do so. We follow similar processes when looking into speaking up concerns as we do when investigating fitness to practise complaints. Whilst the processes may vary slightly depending on the circumstances of the individual case, you can expect that it will broadly look like the process set out in our How to make a complaint leaflet. 

Support for whistleblowers

We understand that speaking up can be a nerve-wracking and difficult thing to do, especially due to barriers such as poor organisational culture, structural inequalities, and workplace discrimination. We are also aware that businesses are not always clear about what their responsibilities are to make the process simple and to act on concerns raised. We have produced the guidance to ensure businesses are clear on our expectations and what the barriers are to speaking up.

We would take allegations that anyone was being discouraged from speaking up or victimised or discriminated against for doing so very seriously. As well as being unlawful, this would amount to a breach of GOC standards that we would take very seriously.

In our guidance for businesses, we have stressed the importance of having a proper process in place for acting upon concerns raised, in line with our Standards for Optical Businesses, and maintaining and promoting awareness of how staff can speak up.

If a registrant has a concern, they can get in touch with the GOC by emailing [email protected] or calling 020 7307 3466. We have a designated speaking up contact who can listen, advise on our remit, and talk through how concerns would be acted upon if they were raised. The initial discussion would be confidential and there would be no obligation to speak up at that point.

About the author

Marie Bunby is head of policy and standards at the GOC.

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