Five insights from the GOC

DBS checks, registrant fees and optical complaints were discussed at the latest meeting of the optical regulator

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 General Optical Council (GOC) agreed to allocate £50,000 to research supporting an update of its 2013 statement on the testing of sight at the latest meeting of the optical regulator (28 June).

Alongside the next steps on the Opticians Act call for evidence, the meeting heard details of the approach to setting the optical regulator’s 2025-2030 strategy.

Councillors discussed the possibility of introducing Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks for registrants as well as the annual report of the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS).

Below, OT presents a summary of key topics covered during the meeting.

1 GOC sets out approach to developing 2025-2030 strategy

At the meeting, GOC chief executive and registrar, Leonie Milliner, introduced the optical regulator’s approach and timeline for developing its 2025-2030 strategy.

She shared that the GOC intends to consult on a high-level strategic document with the working title of Shaping the future. It will replace the current strategic plan for 2020-2025, Fit for the future.

Milliner said that the intention is for the new strategic plan to be approved by December 2024.

Council lead for strategic development, Clare Minchington, provided a summary of a recent meeting attended by councillors on the development of the strategy.

She observed that the role of councillors is to act as “sounding boards.”

“We are aware that we are council and not the executive. Our role is to check and to challenge the work that the executive do,” she said.

Minchington observed that councillors attempted to envision what the world would look like at the end of the next strategy.

This involved considering public and patient protection, healthcare regulation, the organisation and delivery of optical services and what the regulatory and business model of the GOC should look like.

Trends highlighted included internationalisation – with companies using technology to access populations beyond UK shores – and the role of artificial intelligence (AI).

Minchington shared that councillors considered how AI would interact with eye care and the proportion of eye care services that would be offered virtually.

“In terms of the role of the GOC, the big words were flexibility and agility. It is a disruptive environment that we are in,” Minchington emphasised.

2 Next steps on call for evidence

Director of regulatory strategy, Steve Brooker, outlined the planned approach by the GOC following the optical regulator’s response to the call for evidence on the need to change the Opticians Act.

The GOC plans to update its 2013 statement on the testing of sight and develop a new model of business regulation.

Brooker shared that the GOC received positive feedback on its response to the call for evidence.

“Overall, the feedback was that it was measured, balanced and evidence-based,” he said.

Brooker asked Council to approve a request for £50,000 to go towards research supporting the updated sight testing statement.

Council member David Parkins shared his support for updating the 2013 statement on the testing of sight.

“It needs to reflect the current environment where automated and semi-automated tests take place before the patient sees the optometrist,” he shared.

However, he highlighted the complexity of the research and questioned whether £50,000 would be sufficient to support the work.

“We need further scoping work to be done around the research project. When that is done we will have a better idea around the feasibility, the scale and the cost implications of taking this forward,” he said.

He emphasised that it is challenging to design a research question or methodology that investigates variables as they are evolving.

“From my perspective, research will need to manage a range of confounding factors, consider knock on effects and be of an adequate size to represent the UK population,” Parkins shared.

Council members Mike Galvin and Ken Gill also expressed reservations about whether the budget would be sufficient.

“I’m concerned that we are doing this on a shoestring,” Gill shared.

The £50,000 research contribution was approved by council.

Addressing a question about why the contribution was not accounted for as part of the budgeting process, Milliner highlighted that there was an increasing need to be agile when it comes to financial planning.

She also shared that there are ambitions to provide a more substantial policy and research budget in time.

3 Registrant fees to remain the same for 2023/2024

The GOC renumeration committee recommended no change to registrant fees for 2023/2024.

Minchington shared: “We looked at the benchmarking data and recommended no change, but we are mindful that we will be looking at this afresh next year.”

4 Council discusses whether registrants should require DBS checks

Council considered whether the optical regulator should require DBS checks from prospective registrants at the point of registration.

GOC head of governance, Andrew Spragg, highlighted that only one other healthcare regulator in the UK requires DBS checks.

“The topic of DBS checks has been a persistent conversation within the registration committee,” he said.

Spragg added that the Professional Services Authority (PSA) has announced its intention to review the approach taken across regulators.

The Government is yet to respond to an independent review of the DBS regime – the Bailey Review – which published its recommendations in April 2023.

Council member, Lisa Gerson, shared that the registration committee felt that, on balance, members of the public would expect DBS checks to be made.

“The starting point is that the maintenance of the register is for the protection of the public,” she said.

“The committee felt members of the public would be more confident if DBS checks were carried out,” she said.

Council member, Sinead Burns, shared that she was struck by the fact that only one other healthcare regulator requires DBS checks.

“I would have thought it would be prudent to await the outcome of the PSA review,” she said.

Spragg shared that the optical regulator believes businesses are best placed to make the decision about which individuals should require a DBS check.

Council agreed to continue the existing approach of the GOC, and to reconsider the issue when the policy direction of the Government and the PSA is known.

5 Optical Consumer Complaints Service annual report highlights cost of living pressures

Head of the OCCS, Jennie Jones, presented the OCCS annual report at the meeting.

Between the beginning of April 2022 and the end of March 2023, the OCCS received 1707 complaints.

Jones highlighted that the financial pressures that households are facing has had an effect on the complaints received by the service.

“We are seeing an increase in the likelihood of complaints being made,” Jones said.

She added that it has also taken more effort to reach a resolution in the context of cost of living pressures.

Concerns around domiciliary care is an area that is being closely monitored by the OCCS, Jones shared.

She observed that communication is often “at the heart” of the issues received by the service.

Jones emphasised the importance of providing clarity around the complaints process within a practice.

“If they are bounced from pillar to post that adds to the frustration,” she said.

There has been a strong uptake among optical professionals of training to handle complaints and develop soft skills, Jones said.

“Given the number of complaints that escalate that is indicative of what has been a very consumer focused approach to handling complaints,” she said.