Before the GOC in 2023
An at-a-glance summary of fitness to practise decisions published by the optical regulator
23 June 2022
Below OT presents a summary of General Optical Council fitness to practise decisions published over the last six months.
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A Harpenden-based optometrist has been erased from the GOC register after he continued to practise while subject to an interim suspension order.
Donald Lydon (GOC registration 01-23661) was also found by a fitness to practise committee to have submitted General Ophthalmic Services (GOS) claims for matters other than sight tests, and altered dates on GOS forms for sight tests performed during his interim suspension order.
Turning to aggravating factors in the case, the committee highlighted a lack of insight by Lydon into his conduct.
“The committee has not received evidence of any remorse, apology or clear acceptance of wrongdoing from the registrant. There is no evidence to suggest the registrant has taken steps to remediate his conduct,” the committee noted.
Lydon had a previous finding of misconduct from 2017, when he faced allegations of clinical failures, poor record keeping and failing to cooperate with a GOC investigation.
The committee also found that Lydon’s conduct comprised dishonesty at the “high end of the scale.”
“The persistent and prolonged nature of the dishonesty in claiming for GOS sight tests for multiple patients resulted in significant financial gain for the registrant,” the decision stated.
In mitigation, Lydon had agreed to pay back funds owed to the NHS on a monthly basis.
The committee determined that Lydon’s behaviour was “fundamentally incompatible” with being a registered professional.
“The committee concluded that erasure of the registrant’s name from the register is the only appropriate and proportionate sanction,” the committee stated.
A Bradford-based dispensing optician has been suspended for six months after he dishonestly obtained free contact lenses.
Joshua Smith (GOC registration D-17395) created a contact lens order without a prescription for an individual who was not a patient at the practice where he worked. He did not collect payment for the contact lenses.
A GOC fitness to practise committee determined that Smith’s actions were dishonest as he intended to obtain free contact lenses.
In terms of aggravating factors, the committee highlighted that Smith’s misconduct was carried out for financial gain at a loss to the NHS, that there was an abuse of the employer’s trust and that Smith did not immediately admit to his conduct.
In mitigation, Smith had no previous fitness to practise history, he had cooperated with the GOC, and had received positive references.
Smith was shown to have a good level of insight, reflection, remorse and had apologised.
The committee determined that a six-month suspension order was an appropriate and proportion sanction.
An optometrist has been suspended from the GOC register for four months for clinical failures.
Philip Sowden (GOC registration 01-14181) received the sanction after he failed to conduct an appropriate eye examination, did not refer the patient to hospital and failed to maintain adequate records.
An expert witness found that Sowden had failed to detect signs of glaucoma in a patient who had regularly presented to his practice for sight tests, despite “clear indications” of the condition from patient history, sight tests undertaken and presenting symptoms. The inadequacy of patient records was also highlighted.
The GOC was initially contacted by a patient expressing concerns about the clinical care they received at the practice.
The patient wrote: “For the past three years I have been telling the optician at my eye test that I have a vision blackspot. I was told that my pressures were fine, and he could see nothing wrong.”
The patient, whose father had glaucoma, was seen by another optometry practice that referred her to hospital where she was diagnosed with primary open angle glaucoma.
A fitness to practise committee noted that Sowden has not practised since February 2022 and voluntarily came off the register in March 2023.
A four-month suspension was determined to be the appropriate sanction.
“In the circumstances of this case, namely misconduct arising out of a single patient assessment, the Registrant’s long and unblemished career history, the Registrant’s admissions and co-operation with his regulator an order of erasure would be disproportionate,” the decision highlighted.
A Chertsey-based practitioner has been suspended for two months after he submitted claims to his health insurance provider using falsified receipts.
Optometrist Tajinder Ghattaora (GOC registration 01-26738) used receipts belonging to patients to make separate fraudulent claims through a private health insurance company. He gained £500 through the claims.
A fitness to practise committee considered that the fact the misconduct took place at work, using workplace materials, to be an aggravating factor in the case.
Other aggravating factors included that the misconduct occurred on two occasions, it was premeditated and for personal gain. The misconduct involved a breach of employer trust and resulted in defrauding an insurance company.
In mitigation, the judgement considered difficulties in Ghattaora’s personal circumstances and the fact that he had admitted the conduct and expressed remorse following an investigation by his employer.
He had repaid the funds to the insurance company, engaged with the fitness to practise process, received positive testimonials and had no previous fitness to practise history.
The committee considered that there was a low risk of repetition of the misconduct and determined a two-month suspension to be an appropriate sanction.
An optometrist who made false claim for bonuses has been suspended for 10 months from the GOC register.
A fitness to practise committee decision found Stanmore-based practitioner, Bhavik Gandhi (GOC registration 01-32156) had made 14 separate false claims amounting to £2811.33 between March 2021 and April 2022.
The committee highlighted that the conduct was dishonest, because Gandhi knew he was not entitled to the funded that he claimed for.
Aggravating factors considered by the committee include the prolonged period of the misconduct, the abuse of trust and the fact it was carried out for financial gain.
In mitigation, the decision highlighted that Gandhi had made admissions at an early stage and cooperated fully with the GOC.
He had repaid the money that he had falsely claimed and had no previous fitness to practise history.
The committee also highlighted that Gandhi showed a good level of insight, reflection, remorse and had made an apology.
A 10-month suspension was determined to be an appropriate and proportionate sanction.
“The committee was satisfied on balance that the period proposed of 10 months was sufficiently long enough to meet the public interest,” the decision stated.
An optometrist has been suspended from the GOC register for three months after she cancelled patient appointments without authorisation from her practice.
A fitness to practise committee heard that on several occasions Karina Gahir (GOC registration 01-30825) sent texts cancelling appointments to patients.
The Hounslow-based practitioner used an expired pin from another employee to cancel patient appointments.
The committee considered the fact that Gahir denied responsibility in the early stages of the local investigation on more than one occasion to be an aggravating factor in the case.
While there was no evidence of direct harm, the committee found that there was a potential risk of harm as a result of cancelled appointments.
Other aggravating factors included an abuse of the trust placed by the employer in Gahir and a lack of full insight into her conduct.
In mitigation, the committee highlighted a lack of repetition of the behaviour and the fact that the incident took place in the early years of Gahir’s career.
The committee also took into account that there was no evidence of harm to patients, that the dishonesty was not for financial benefit and that Gahir had apologised.
She had also undertaken some relevant remediation, completing a webinar on dishonesty.
The committee determined that an appropriate sanction would be three months’ suspension from the register.
“The committee concluded that a suspension order would adequately mark the seriousness of the registrant’s conduct,” the decision stated.
An optometrist based in Bradford has been suspended for three months after failing to declare a drink driving offence.
Carla Mahon (GOC registration 01-23622) was disqualified from driving for 16-months following a drink driving conviction in August 2007. In October of the same year, she applied to join the GOC register but did not declare her conviction.
Mahon’s repeated failure to declare her drink driving conviction as part of an annual declaration to remain on the register was found to amount to misconduct.
The committee considered that the fact that Mahon had failed to declare the conviction on a number of occasions over a period of time to be an aggravating factor.
She only disclosed the conviction after the matter was brought to the GOC’s attention by an individual in 2021.
In mitigation, the committee took into account that Mahon had engaged with the GOC, that there were no concerns relating to her clinical practice and there was no patient harm.
The committee also highlighted that Mahon had demonstrated insight into her behaviour and shown remorse regarding her conduct.
It was determined that a three-month suspension would be an appropriate sanction.
A dispensing optician who falsified visual field results and withheld clinical data that showed potential pathology has been erased from the GOC register.
Ben Burnage (GOC registration D-17008), of Crewe, repeated a visual field test for a patient without the patient being present and substituted this result into the patient record. The original result was placed in the ‘Shred-It’ bin.
Aggravating factors considered by the committee included that the conduct involved withholding clinical data that had implications for monitoring a potential pathology.
The dishonesty present within the case was covered up on repeated occasions.
“His conduct breached the trust of both his optometrist colleague, who was entitled to rely upon receiving accurate clinical information from him, and Patient A, who would have expected the correct test results,” the decision stated.
The committee also noted that Burnage had provided no evidence of insight, remorse, reflection or remediation.
The committee determined that the registrant’s behaviour was “fundamentally incompatible” with continued registration.
A Nuneaton-based dispensing optician has been erased from the GOC register after stealing from his workplace.
Jitesh Gadher (GOC registration D-16062) took cash payments from patients on multiple occasions and falsely claimed he was working for the General Optical Council (GOC) as an investigating officer and fitness to practise committee member. In mitigation, a GOC fitness to practise committee noted that Gadher had no previous findings against him and he had engaged fully with the regulatory process.
A testimonial highlighted how Gadher had been working successfully and was clinically very competent.
However, aggravating factors considered by the fitness to practise committee included the fact that Gadher had abused a position of trust and that he displayed a lack of insight into his conduct.
Gadher’s conduct had been premeditated and had occurred on several occasions. His dishonesty not only involved stealing from his workplace, but falsely claiming he held a position of responsibility within the GOC.
The fitness to practise committee decided that a sanction of erasure was appropriate.
“The nature of the committee’s findings, which involve serious, persistent dishonesty, means there is an ongoing risk from which the public need to be protected,” the committee emphasised.
Kirkaldy-based dispensing optician, Martyn Stewart (GOC registration D-17306), has been erased the GOC register after he knowingly processed multiple false refund transactions.
A GOC fitness to practise committee heard that Stewart processed false transactions amounting to a total of £3726 between March 2019 and October 2020.
The committee determined that the false transactions amounted to persistent dishonesty over a prolonged period, which only stopped when Stewart was caught.
There was a significant abuse of trust as Stewart was a store manager at the time of the misconduct.
The committee highlighted that the incidents of theft were calculated and became increasingly brazen. There was no evidence of insight, remediation or engagement in the proceedings.
The committee determined that erasure was the only proportionate and appropriate sanction in the circumstances.
Amanwil Takla (GOC registration SO-16945), a student optometrist based in Hove, has been suspended from the GOC register for five months.
The sanction is in relation to Takla creating and submitting a false tenancy agreement to his university in order to claim accommodation costs.
A GOC fitness to practise committee considered whether the behaviour was likely to occur again in the future, noting that it was one incident, very early in Takla’s career.
The committee considered that Takla had learned more about ethics during his time at university.
In all the circumstances, the committee found that Takla’s conduct had not been fully remedied and there was a risk of repetition.
However, there were no deep-seated personality or attitudinal problems identified by the committee, and Takla was found to have developed insight into his conduct.
The committee considered that erasure would be disproportionate and settled on a sanction of five months suspension from the register.
The GOC learning bulletin, FtP Focus, also provides details on the types of concerns the optical regulator receives and how it assesses them during an investigation. If you have suggestions for future topics to cover, contact the GOC by email.
OT only includes cases that the GOC has deemed to be of public interest within this synopsis. In line with policy, case summaries will be removed from the OT website after six months.