Four insights from the GOC

Setting remuneration for GOC members and a new five-year strategy were among topics discussed at the latest meeting of the optical regulator

The word ‘welcome’ is written in white letters at the bottom left of a wooden reception desk . Behind the reception desk, on a grey wall, the words ‘General Optical Council’ are printed. Within this title, the word ‘Optical’ is printed in white on a blue, raised circle.

The results of a consultation on removing gender from the register and a new five-year strategy were among discussion points at the latest General Optical Council meeting (13 March, held online).

Alongside a range of agenda items, GOC chair, Dr Anne Wright, paid tribute to the contribution of Dr David Parkins, who attended his final meeting after serving as a council member for eight years.

“It is almost impossible to imagine the council without him,” she shared.

Wright welcomed Parkins’ successor, Dr Hema Radhakrishnan, whose term as a council member began on 15 March.

Below OT covers some of the key topics explored during the March meeting.

1 The optical regulator will launch a three-month consultation on its strategic blueprint for 2025–2030 in May

At the meeting, councillors discussed the draft GOC strategy for 2025–2030. It is anticipated that a three-month consultation on the strategy will launch in May.

GOC director of regulatory strategy, Steve Brooker, shared that the draft strategy is a culmination of more than a year’s work.

He highlighted that the language used in the mission statement reflects emerging trends within the sector.

For example, ‘eye care’ is used rather than ‘optical’ to reflect the wider range of activities that are undertaken by registrants.

Brooker shared that ‘services’ is used rather than ‘professions’ to reflect the fact that both businesses and individuals are registered with the GOC.

The three objectives contained within the draft strategy are: creating fairer and more inclusive eye care services; supporting responsible innovation and protecting the public; and preventing harm through agile regulation.

Brooker highlighted that the first two objectives represent key challenges where registrants can make a contribution, while the third objective is internally-focussed and represents the journey the GOC needs to go on in order to achieve the other objectives.

He added that the three objectives will naturally overlap.

“This strategy is very timely. Registrants are increasingly being seen as part of the solution to wider problems within the NHS,” Brooker said.

Council member, Clare Minchington, highlighted that the past five years have been about the GOC getting its house in order – progress that has been reflected in positive evaluations by the Professional Standards Authority.

“That gives us a fantastic grounding and ability to focus on some of those more challenging problems – such as health inequalities and the contribution that eye care can make to that,” she said.

Optometrist and council member, Dr Josie Forte, shared that she has observed the effect of extended roles while regularly practising in clinic.

“I feel like every week my role is expanding and I am sure that registrants around the country will feel the same,” she said.

She emphasised that the new strategy needs to be able to keep pace with evolving demands.

“I think it is important that we keep this as flexible as we can, recognising how fast the environment around us is changing,” Forte shared.

Council member, Dr David Parkins, highlighted the importance of getting high levels of engagement through the consultation on the strategy.

“We have to think about how this lands with registrants – this will affect everybody,” she said.

Brooker shared that he is expecting “quite a large response” to the consultation document.

“It will set the direction of travel for the next five years,” he said.

2 There will be no uplift in remuneration levels for GOC council members and committee members for 2024/2025

The GOC Council also discussed the remuneration committee’s decision not to provide an increase in payment to council members and committee members for 2024/2025.

The fees are set taking into account benchmarking data from other regulators – such as the fees paid to members of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, General Dental Council and General Medical Council.

For 2024/2025, the council chair will be paid an annual fee of £50,000, senior council members are paid an annual fee of £16,462 while other council members are paid £13,962.

Minchington shared that one of the emerging risks is that potential council applicants may be put off applying because of the cost of taking time out of practice.

For example, increasing locum costs may mean that it is challenging to provide cover.

“We are mindful of that – although, at the moment, the level of applications and the quality of applications is very high,” Minchington shared.

Forte highlighted the value of the remuneration committee using benchmarking data in order to come to a decision.

“It is really important to get involved with your sector regulator. I think we should keep it as an attractive option for all registrants so we don’t have registrants thinking that it is not for them,” she said.

3 The GOC is investing £20,000 to explore unfair outcomes in fitness to practise referrals and educational attainment

At the meeting, the GOC council discussed its Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Action Plan for 2024-2025.

As part of the plan, the optical regulator will allocate £20,000 from strategic reserves to meet the cost of external research into unfair outcomes.

This research would provide a basis for further work helping to address inequalities in fitness to practise referrals and differential educational attainment.

GOC chief executive Leonie Milliner highlighted that the EDI landscape has moved on significantly since 2019.

“Everyone on this call recognises the strengths that are gained through diversity,” she said.

“We can never be complacent about our role, corporately and individually, in trying to achieve a more equitable and fair society,” Milliner emphasised.

Minchington highlighted that acknowledging challenges within the sector is an act of courage.

“This is an issue across the country. I think we should be brave and bold in owning our small part of it. How could we be a tiny beacon where nothing bad ever happens here? That would be impossible,” she said.

4 The GOC has reviewed consultation responses to a proposal to remove gender from the public register

The GOC has voted to move ahead with plans to remove references to a registrant’s gender on the public register.

At the March meeting, the council discussed responses to a three-month consultation on the topic. The optical regulator received 96 written responses.

Of the responses, 42% considered that references to gender should be removed from the public register, 49% considered that this information should not be removed and 9% were neutral.

GOC director of regulatory strategy, Steve Brooker, highlighted that the profile of respondents differs from the usual pool of consultation responses. He added that the views may not be representative of registrants as a whole.

“It is likely that people who have strong personal views on this consultation are more likely to respond,” he said.

Brooker highlighted that gender identity is a contentious area of public discourse.

“When we come to this table we come as a public regulator, mindful of public protection,” he said.

“On those terms, the analysis is that essentially someone’s gender does not affect their ability to perform safe and effective eye care,” Brooker observed.

He added that there are sources other than the public register where people can find this information.

Brooker highlighted that there are positive EDI reasons to remove gender information from the public register – for example, to avoid outing transgender registrants and minimising unconscious bias against women.

“We will continue to collect information about gender for public monitoring purposes,” he said.

Minchington emphasised that before this decision, the GOC was an outlier among regulators in publishing gender information on the public register.

“It sits uncomfortably with me that we would publish a protected characteristic. I think this is the right position,” she said.