Seven insights from the General Optical Council

The inaugural business registrants survey and the annual Optical Consumer Complaints Service report were discussed at the latest meeting

A wooden reception desk stands against a grey wall. The word ‘welcome’ is written on the desk and illuminated on the wall are the words ‘General Optical Council’ in blue, with the word ‘optical’ displayed on a blue circle logo in the centre

A new survey of business registrants and trends in consumer complaints were discussed at the latest meeting of the General Optical Council (GOC) (26 June, held virtually).

The Business Registrants Survey 2024 received responses from 214 businesses on a range of topics, including innovation, student placements and business outlook.

Jennie Jones, head of the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS), presented the organisation’s annual report for 2023–2024 at the meeting.

Below, OT presents a summary of key points raised during discussions.

1 Relatively low response rate to inaugural GOC Business Registrants Survey

Responses received by the optical regulator on its first survey of optical businesses represent around 7% of the total registered population.

In comparison, the latest survey of individual registrants by the GOC received a response rate of 13%.

Director of regulatory strategy at the GOC, Steve Brooker, highlighted that this is the first time a survey of this kind has been commissioned.

“We didn’t receive quite as many responses as we hoped. We will try to improve the response rate in future years,” he said.

GOC council member, Will Stockdale, shared that because the survey is in the public domain, people will begin to appreciate the value of the information and contribute to the survey in future years.

“As someone who has been close to optics for 25 years, there was information in the survey that surprised me,” he said.

Alongside the issue of engagement with the survey, some views were represented more than others – with a stronger showing from registrants based in England, and a higher response rate from independent businesses than multiples.

More than eight in 10 (82%) of responding businesses were based in England, while 59% of respondents owned independent practices.

GOC council member, Ken Gill, highlighted: “I think there is a real opportunity for us to dig deeper as to what is happening in other parts of the United Kingdom.”

2 Business bugbears: GOC fees, record keeping, indemnity insurance and CPD

GOC council member, Mike Galvin, shared that the survey presents a “wealth of information” about the issues affecting businesses.

He highlighted that there was a “general lack of support” for the level of GOC fees, while one in six respondents thought that the GOC was asking too much in terms of record keeping. There was also push back on requirements around indemnity insurance, Galvin added.

“I find it really useful. We have to look at the data that is unfavourable and understand why it is there,” he said.

GOC council member, Josie Forte, shared that the different perspective a business owner brings should be kept in mind.

“I noticed the push back on CPD. On an individual basis, you have to get used to the changes and understand what those changes mean. But from an employer point of view, you are not just worried about your own CPD, but also the CPD of the people who you employ. It is a very different outlook as an employer,” she said.

GOC council member, Tim Parkinson, observed that survey occurred at the same time as the GOC announced a fee uplift.

“Clearly what we shouldn’t do is just dismiss it. We should be challenging ourselves on issues like this,” he said.

Responding to some of the points raised, Brooker highlighted that the optical regulator requires that businesses have adequate insurance.

“It is as simple as that. I think the frustration with insurance probably comes down to rising premiums,” he said.

Brooker observed that the feedback around CPD could be linked to recent changes to education and training.

“I suspect part of this is a period of adaptation to our new education and training requirements,” he said.

3 Greater proportion of multiple practices offer student placements than independents

The Business Registrants Survey 2024 also found that while 50% of respondents from multiple practices offered student placements, only 11% of respondents from independent practices did the same.

Reflecting on the reasons for this trend, Munro shared that the large multiple practices engage with universities to recruit pre-registration optometrists.

Parkinson outlined points that were raised during a discussion of this issue by the GOC’s companies committee.

He said that members of the committee did not feel that there was a regulatory barrier to independent businesses offering student placements.

“However, there was some interesting feedback from a committee member who did engage with universities about taking on trainees, but they struggled to gain traction,” Parkinson shared.

“It is probably about scale and numbers but maybe there is something we can do there in terms of encouraging universities to consider placements with independents,” he added.

Parkinson also highlighted that 72% of respondents cited a lack of clarity about GOC requirements as a barrier to offering student placements.

“Maybe there is something we can do in our communications activity about requirements for students to bring some clarity there,” he said.

4 OCCS annual report: clinical misdiagnosis complaints drop

Jennie Jones, head of the Optical Consumer Complaints Service, presented an overview of the organisation’s annual report for 2023-2024.

Complaints regarding clinical misdiagnosis dropped over the period – to around half the number of complaints that were received in 2021-2022.

Jones shared that the root cause of these types of complaints often related to communication and managing expectations.

Forte highlighted that it was positive to see the number of clinical complaints dropping.

“I think the one of the reasons that the figures are moving in a positive direction is because of the CPD that is delivered,” she said.

5 Increase in the number of domiciliary complaints

The annual report reveals that the number of complaints relating to domiciliary services increased year-on-year from 42 to 98.

As a proportion of total workload, domiciliary complaints remain small – accounting for 2.6% of all complaints received by the OCCS.

Consultant to the OCCS, Richard Edwards, emphasised that it was important not to hold domiciliary workers to a higher standard than their peers.

“I think the domiciliary sector is full of fantastic and committed registrants. Let us not lose sight of that,” he said.

“I wonder if the public has higher expectations. I think it is a challenging consumer area in which to practice,” Edwards added.

Stockdale shared that sometimes complaints can be made as a result of a separation of views within a family.

“One family member may want every penny spent on their relative and another family member may want to protect their inheritance. There are so many layers within this environment that we need to keep in mind,” he said.

6 Uplift in complaints about OCT scan interpretation

The annual report highlights an “emerging trend” of complaints relating to the interpretation of optical coherence tomography (OCT) scans.

“This is particularly important for mobile or locum practitioners who may use different models of OCT on a regular basis,” the report highlighted.

Speaking at the GOC meeting, Parkinson emphasised: “Use of OCT is going to keep going up. This could become a real problem area. I think that is an action for us – to be cognisant of it and keep an eye on this going forward.”

Edwards reflected that there has been a learning curve for the profession as practitioners become familiar with OCT technology.

“I think it will be a self-limiting problem. I think artificial intelligence will ultimately solve the gap that we have at the moment,” he shared.

7 The process followed when a practice receives multiple OCCS complaints

In response to a question from Galvin about practices that receive “above average” levels of complaints, Jones shared that if three complaints are received about a particular practice, this will trigger monitoring by the OCCS.

“If we see a pattern of behaviour that is of concern, there are routes for us to liaise with the FTP team. There are also some outreach options that are open to us to support the business,” she explained.

She noted that this situation is rare – and the service would only have two or three conversations each year with a practice that has had repeated complaints.