The General Optical Council (GOC) has improved its performance in a review by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), although fitness to practise cases remain an Achilles’ heel.
The latest PSA performance review of the regulator revealed that the median number of weeks between the receipt of a complaint and a GOC hearing was longer than a year, at 82 weeks, while there were 13 cases on the GOC books that were more than three years old.
Overall, the GOC received a stronger rating from the PSA than in 2014 – 2015, meeting 22 of the authority’s 24 standards of good regulation, compared to achieving 21 of the standards the previous year.
The report noted a number of changes that the GOC has made to its registration processes to improve the accuracy of the register.
It also highlighted that the GOC had introduced several measures to improve the timeliness of its fitness to practise hearings. However, these actions had not yet resulted in quicker processing of fitness to practise cases.
“We hope to see an improvement in timeliness in the next period, when the GOC have had additional time to embed changes to the fitness to practise process,” the report highlighted.
The secure retention of information was another weak point highlighted in the PSA performance review.
Over the 18-month review period, between April 2015 and September 2016, the GOC reported four data breaches to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
In one instance, the GOC provided a mixture of home and practice addresses of more than 17,000 registrants when responding to a data sales request.
The ICO took no further action following the lapse on the basis that no sensitive information had been disclosed.
Another breach involved five instances where patient records were sent to the wrong practice after the completion of an investigation. The ICO noted that the GOC was developing a new process and guidance for staff to prevent a similar situation reoccurring.
GOC chief executive and registrar, Samantha Peters, highlighted to OT that the GOC had already made “significant improvements” to information governance since the period under review.
“Where we had a small number of information breaches, the ICO recognised the swift and appropriate action we took to minimise any risk and as a result they did not take any enforcement action against us,” she emphasised.
“We have also made changes to improve the efficiency of the fitness to practise process. These changes are improving the way we handle new cases so we hope to see an improvement in our processing time once our older cases have filtered through the system,” Ms Peters concluded.
AOP chief executive, Henrietta Alderman, highlighted to OT that while it was pleasing to see that the GOC had improved the accuracy of information held about registrants, the length of time taken to process fitness to practise cases remained a “serious concern.”
The number of data breaches was also worrying, she noted.
“The GOC has committed to addressing these important issues and we hope to see the positive impact of this going forward,” Ms Alderman concluded.