GOC discusses proposed revisions to standards

Social media conduct and maintaining appropriate professional boundaries are among topics that will be included in updated standards

The logo for the General Optical Council is illuminated on a wall

Proposed revisions to the General Optical Council (GOC) Standards of Practice were discussed at the latest meeting of the optical regulator (13 December, held online).

Topics covered in the proposed revisions for the standards that govern optometrists, dispensing opticians, optical students and businesses include leadership and professionalism, care of patients in vulnerable circumstances and effective communication.

Equality, diversity and inclusion, use of technology, maintaining appropriate professional boundaries and registrant health are areas that are also subject to revisions and additions, as well as social media and online conduct and consent.

Speaking at the GOC Council meeting, director of regulatory strategy, Steve Brooker, shared that changes have been made in topical areas where the standards could be strengthened or revised.

“What you have before you is the product of considerable engagement on a number of levels,” he said.

The GOC engaged in conversations with a broad range of stakeholders, including GOC staff, representative bodies and individual registrants.

“The standards are ultimately here to protect the public and maintain confidence in the profession,” Brooker highlighted.

“We now feel we are at a stage where we are ready to consult,” he added.

GOC standards manager, Rebecca Chamberlain, highlighted that the revisions aim to ensure that the standards remain fit for purpose – reflecting the current context in which students train, registrants practice and businesses operate.

She shared that the GOC commissioned research into public and patient views of the optical regulator’s standards.

“Patients and the public generally felt that the standards were comprehensive while acknowledging that there were some areas where the standards could be improved,” Chamberlain said.

A new standard requires registrants to seek medical advice before practising if they have, or have been exposed to, a “serious communicable disease.”

GOC council member, Josie Forte, shared her view that further elaboration is required on this new standard.

“I think it is something that needs to be fleshed out. Registrants need to understand what we are expecting them to report,” she said.

She also commented on the expansion of a standard that requires registrants to maintain confidentiality when communicating publicly to include images.

“My understanding is that images, as long as they are anonymised, don’t fall under GDPR [EU general data protection regulation]. I can think of many different reasons that you might want to share images. I want to make sure that we don’t lose the benefit of being able to share images correctly and appropriately,” Forte said.

In response, Chamberlain outlined how the communicable disease standard aims to bring the optical regulator into alignment with other regulators and reflect on what was learned during COVID-19.

“We would expect registrants to follow public health guidance,” she said.

On the question of confidentiality, Chamberlain confirmed that images would not fall under GDPR as long as no patient information is shared.

“The purpose is to make this expectation very explicit,” Chamberlain highlighted.

GOC council member, Dr David Parkins, commented on a new standard that requires registrants to identify themselves and their role, as well as advising patients who will provide their care.

“I would be very interested to see the comments and responses to this consultation. It has wide implications,” he said.

On the subject of confidentiality and images, Parkins shared that WhatsApp is being used to transfer images into the hospital for consultants to review.

He added that there is no audit or record keeping when it comes to this method of sharing information.

“The governance around this is important. This is an area where we need to make sure that improvements are made,” Parkins said.

We understand the need for professional communication but it is about addressing any patient or public risks

Rebecca Chamberlain, GOC standards manager

Chamberlain provided insight on the reasoning behind the new standard that requires registrants to introduce themselves and their role.

“In our stakeholder research, we heard that patients don’t always understand who is treating them. We have also had standards queries where patients have got in touch with us because they have not understood who is part of their pathway of care,” she said.

On the question of sharing images, she shared that research suggests patients and the public do not view WhatsApp to be a professional platform.

“We understand the need for professional communication but it is about addressing any patient or public risks,” Chamberlain emphasised.

GOC council member, Frank Munro, added that NHS Scotland prohibits clinicians from using WhatsApp to share patient data.

A three-month consultation on the proposed standards will launch in January 2024. The proposed standards can be viewed online within the GOC Council meeting papers for 13 December.

Do you think optometrists should be able to use social media platforms, such as WhatsApp, to share patient images?

  • Yes

    11 91%
  • No

    1 8%
  • Not sure

    0 0%