Three insights from the GOC

Experiences of bullying and harassment within optometry were discussed at the latest meeting of the GOC

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 meeting of the General Optical Council (GOC) heard that reports of harassment and bullying within the profession are more common than in the NHS.

The findings, which were included in the latest registrant and public perception survey, were discussed alongside the optical regulator’s latest equality, diversity and inclusion report at the meeting (held virtually on 27 September). Below, OT presents three insights from the meeting.

1 Asian and British Asian registrants continue to be overrepresented in fitness to practise proceedings

The latest GOC equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) report outlined the changing demographics of the profession, as well as actions that the optical regulator is taking to reduce inequalities.

The report revealed that 63% of dispensing opticians and optometrists are female, while 35% of registrants are Asian or British Asian.

One in four optometrists are Christian, while one in five optometrists are Muslim. A further one in five optometrists report having no religion.

Turning to student optometrists, around half of students are Asian or British Asian (52%) and four in ten (41%) of student optometrists are Muslim.

The report outlines how inequalities remain in the fitness to practise process. Among those facing investigation, 65% are male.

Asian and British Asian registrants are over-represented within fitness to practise investigations, accounting for close to half of investigations (49%) when those who prefer not to say their ethnicity are removed from the data.

Speaking at the meeting, newly appointed EDI manager at the GOC, Jem Nash, welcomed the optical regulator’s approach to EDI issues.

“It was encouraging to come in and see this as an issue that is taken seriously. My hope is that we can keep this momentum and that our approach to EDI will be really ambitious – extending beyond duties and legislative obligations, to something that is at the heart of the work we do,” they said.

GOC council member Clare Minchington highlighted the range of aspects that were assessed as part of the report.

“It looked through so many different perspectives of EDI. I thought that was really strong – we have our internal view, our registrants and the public,” she said.

2 GOC to launch consultation on removing gender from the public register

At the meeting, the GOC agreed to move ahead with a consultation on removing information about gender from the public register.

Director of regulatory strategy, Steve Brooker, explained that the optical regulator had been considering whether including information about gender is necessary for public protection.

“There are other ways of patients finding out this information before an appointment. The GOC is in a minority of regulators in having this information on the public register,” he said.

Brooker added that the General Medical Council is currently moving towards removing information about gender from its register.

GOC council member Josie Forte highlighted that other personal information about optometrists and dispensing opticians is not included on the register.

“Why do we publish that? It does seem to be quite an anomaly,” she said.

GOC council member, Lisa Gerson, observed: “I think it is recognised that there may be some members of the public who may wish to see a registrant of a certain sex but they can find that information out by another means – for example, when booking an appointment.”

3 One in four optometrists and dispensing opticians experience discrimination from patients

The GOC discussed the latest registrant workforce and perceptions survey at the meeting, which has revealed high levels of bullying and harassment within the optical workforce.

The survey found that 41% of respondents had experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from patients in the past 12 months. Around one in five (18%) had experienced this behaviour from managers, and 16% had experienced this behaviour from colleagues.

Approximately one in four (24%) of respondents had experienced discrimination from patients in the past 12 months.

GOC policy manager, Angharad Jones, highlighted that the optical regulator is convening a meeting with key stakeholders to discuss the findings and determine a way forward in terms of sector-wide commitments.

“We think it is really important that the GOC, as the regulator, takes a stand and leads the sector on this. We have a duty to protect the public and we know that poor working environments, and the health and wellbeing of practitioners, has a real impact on the quality of patient care received,” she emphasised.

Jones highlighted that patient satisfaction levels remain high, at over 90%.

“But when we delve further into those findings, we know that patients from certain groups – such as those with a disability or those from an ethnic minority background – don’t have quite such positive experiences of optical services,” she said.

GOC council member, Dr David Parkins, highlighted his concern at the findings around bullying and harassment.

“It is not just about protecting the public – this is also about protecting registrants. If you look at the data, some registrants are looking at leaving the profession and this may be one of the reasons why,” he said.

Registrants’ experiences of working in optical services are far from equal

GOC director of regulatory strategy, Steve Brooker

He added that the NHS takes a ‘zero tolerance’ attitude to abuse, and questioned whether this should be pursued in the optical sector too.

GOC council associate, Harry Singh Bhakar, echoed Parkins’ concerns on the issue.

“I think it is commendable to see the corrective steps that are being taken. You can see that there is an increasing number of people coming into the profession from minority backgrounds,” he said.

“This will be an important issue to tackle in order to foster healthy working environments,” Bhakar emphasised.

Fellow council associate, Deepali Modha, shared that she has experienced this type of behaviour while working as an optometrist.

She mentioned the posters that are seen in dental practices as a way of setting standards around expected behaviour.

“There are clear signs saying harassment or abuse will not be tolerated. I am yet to see that in an optical practice,” she said.

In his closing remarks, Brooker highlighted that there were many things to celebrate in the report – including continued high levels of satisfaction with the services provided by optical practices and optometry becoming the first port of call for eye care in England.

But he emphasised that if registrants are working in environments where they do not feel comfortable, they cannot provide safe care to the public.

“We see that the workforce is becoming more diverse than it ever has been. That is a real strength. However, registrants’ experiences of working in optical services are far from equal. We also have inequality in the public accessing eye care and their experiences of optical services,” he said.

“Creating fairer, more inclusive optical services for the public, patients and professionals is one of the themes that is coming through strongly from the research,” Brooker concluded.

OT  asks...

Have you experienced bullying or harassment at work in the past year?
  • Yes – from patients

    5 19%
  • Yes – from colleagues

    4 15%
  • Yes – from a manager

    3 11%
  • Yes – from a combination of the above

    8 30%
  • No

    6 23%