Five insights from the GOC

The latest meeting of the optical regulator saw Council members discuss the call for evidence on the Optician’s Act

A wooden reception desk with the word ‘welcome’ printed in white letters sits in front of a grey wall. On the wall, the blue lettering of the General Optical Council logo is printed.

The latest GOC meeting (21 September, held virtually) began with a minute’s silence in memory of Queen Elizabeth II.

Topics discussed during the meeting included the latest GOC Annual Report, the call for evidence on the Optician’s Act, and a stakeholder survey investigating how businesses and organisations view the optical regulator.

OT outlines five insights from the meeting.

1 The GOC has outlined research it will commission as part of the call for evidence on the Optician’s Act

The optical regulator has pinpointed the areas it will focus on in order to provide a robust evidence base as part of a review of the legislation that underpins optometry.

The two topics that the optical regulator will commission research on are refraction and business regulation.

The GOC will aim to understand the possible impacts on the patient if refraction, binocular vision and eye health checks are not carried out by the same person.

The regulator also plans to learn from countries where refraction and eye health checks are not carried out by the same person.

On the topic of business regulation, the GOC will examine the number of optical businesses, the nature of services provided, and the potential risks associated with optical business models.

The potential role of inspections, sanctions, access to consumer redress and optical business registration fees will also be investigated by the optical regulator.

Commenting on a recent sector consultation on the call for evidence, the GOC’s director of regulatory strategy, Steve Brooker, highlighted his satisfaction with both the quantity and quality of submissions received.

“It is clear that a lot of effort went into producing very considered submissions,” he said.

GOC Council member Mike Galvin emphasised the important of conveying to the optical sector the extended time frame of legislative change.

“This is probably going to be over several years,” Galvin shared.

He also highlighted the necessity of taking a considered approach to the issues addressed as part of the call for evidence.

“There is a danger that every issue within optometry, and more, will be put inside this. I think we have to be very careful about scope and what we are taking on within this,” Galvin observed.

Fellow Council member, Frank Munro, added that the GOC’s core function is to protect the public.

“We need to retain a sensible approach to scope and stay within our basic remit… We should consider what impact these changes might have on the broader eye care landscape and how that fits with changes across the four nations in how eye care is delivered,” he said.

2 The number of UK optometrists continues to grow – now close to 17,000 – but the number of dispensing opticians remains static

At the meeting, Council discussed the latest GOC Annual Report, which reveals that there are now 16,932 registered optometrists in the UK and 4990 student optometrists.

Council member, David Parkins, highlighted that this is an increase of around 900 qualified optometrists since 2019.

However, the number of dispensing opticians remained relatively unchanged over the same time period.

The number of student dispensing opticians has fallen since 2019 from 1753 to 1331.

“I’m rather concerned about that decline,” Parkins highlighted.

GOC chief executive Leonie Milliner replied that a recruitment campaign by the Association of British Dispensing Opticians was expected to boost graduation numbers in 2024 and 2025.

“I hope we will see rising numbers of dispensing opticians coming into the profession,” she said.

3 Part-finished fitness to practise cases are frustrating efforts to improve timeliness in professional conduct proceedings

In March, the Professional Standards Authority published its annual review of the optical regulator’s performance.

The GOC met 17 of 18 standards considered important for good regulation – falling short on the timeliness of its fitness to practise hearings.

The most recent GOC Council meeting heard that only 34% of substantive fitness to practise hearings were concluded at the first hearing. The optical regulator aims to complete 85% of cases at the first hearing.

“It is really troubling for us. It is unravelling a lot of our work to get our timeliness levels down,” director of regulatory operations, Dionne Spence, said.

“The challenge is that when we go to reschedule the hearing we have an approximately 20 week delay,” she added.

The optical regulator has undertaken a high-level review to understand why cases are not being completed at the first hearing.

Spence noted that the trend does not seem to be underpinned by a single issue.

4 A quarterly performance report revealed the GOC has a staff turnover rate of 28%

Documents presented to the latest GOC meeting noted that the optical regulator has a staff turnover rate of 28%.

After Council member Mike Galvin questioned the high turnover rate, the GOC’s director resources, Yeslin Gearty, explained that the rate is partly due to growth in the overall headcount at the optical regulator.

“What that has led to is some short-term issues – we have not got all the recruitment we have done right the first time. We are looking for this trend to decline very quickly now that we are more stable,” he said

Milliner added that the GOC faces a “very difficult” recruitment market and noted that it does not take many staff members to leave to increase the turnover rate significantly.

“We feel as a leadership team that we are entering a more stable period of recruitment and retention,” she said.

5 The GOC has received feedback from stakeholders

The optical regulator has reported on research examining how organisations and businesses working withing the optical sector perceive the GOC.

The Stakeholders perceptions research involved 30 in-depth interviews with key organisational stakeholders, as well as an online survey that was completed by 147 business registrants.

The majority (89%) of business registrants who responded to the survey worked in independent practice.

Key stakeholders included professional, representative, and membership bodies, patient organisations and Government and commissioner representatives.

Enhanced patient and public engagement, a better communication strategy and refined ability to plan strategically were highlighted as ways the GOC could improve.

Stakeholders also noted that the GOC would benefit from staff gaining a clearer understanding of the sector.