GOC approves temporary changes to Optometry Handbook and supervision policy

The changes will be applicable to the next undergraduate academic cohort, and to this year’s incoming Scheme for Registration trainees

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The General Optical Council (GOC) has approved temporary changes to its Optometry Handbook and supervision policy, following a two-week consultation.

Changes include a reduction of 10% in the total number of GOC stage 2 patient episodes a student must achieve, and an extension to the stage 1 Certificate of Clinical Competence for summer 2018 graduates.

The regulator launched a consultation on 23 July into proposed temporary changes to the documents, in light of the continuing impact of COVID-19 on how students might achieve clinical experience during the pandemic.

The consultation closed on 6 August, receiving a total of 71 responses. Taking this feedback into account, the regulator has approved the temporary changes to the documents.

The GOC suggested the temporary changes would “protect patients, students and the public and enable clinical experience to be delivered in a safe and practical way in light of the limitations that the pandemic has put on clinical practice.”

The approved changes included amending and further defining the minimum number of patient episodes that students must achieve to have an ‘appropriate breadth of patient experience’ in stage 1. The GOC has also broadened the types of experience that can be considered for this, now including observation with formal reflection.

“This approach will enable clinical experience to be delivered in a safe and practical way and contribute to preparing students for the new world of practice brought about by the pandemic,” the GOC shared in the update.

The GOC has approved an extension to the Stage 1 Certificate of Clinical Competence for students who graduated in summer 2018, until 31 December 2020.

The regulator added that it is working towards permanently removing this GOC requirement altogether. Instead, decisions regarding the currency of learning will form part of a provider’s enrolment or admissions policy, such as the policy for the College of Optometrists’ Scheme for Registration.

The GOC has also reduced the total number of GOC stage 2 patient episodes that students must achieve by 10%, and removed the categorised patient episode numbers.

Instead, the regulator outlined that the provider must ensure the student achieves “an appropriate breadth of experience” and justify its level of any “minimum experience in specific areas of practice.”

In a change to the Supervision policy, the GOC will now permit non-GOC fully-qualified registrants to supervise students.

This is provided they meet the GOC’s supervision criteria, are regulated and only supervise tasks that are within their professional scope of practice. The regulator emphasised that education providers must also ensure that all other supervision requirements are met, including clarifying any role in patient episode or core competency sign off the supervisor may have.

The Temporary Supervision Requirements outlined by the GOC indicate that supervisors must be able to demonstrate ‘adequate supervision.’ Explaining it’s definition of this, the GOC outlined that ‘adequate supervision’ can be provided by a registrant who holds a qualification in an eyecare-related field and is experienced in the activities they are supervising, is a fully qualified statutorily-registered health care professional with at least two years’ continuous registration, and complies with the GOC code of conduct (and/or an equivalent regulator’s standards) in their practice. This is in addition to a range of requirements relating to the supervision itself.

The GOC suggests this change would mean that, for example, Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)-registered orthoptists (who have two years of continuous HCPC registration) could supervise student optometrists conducting a binocular vision exam.

Commenting on the consultation outcomes, Tony Stafford, AOP policy director, told OT: “We are glad the GOC has made changes to pick up some of the points we raised in our consultation.”

This included clarifying who is accountable for resolving any problems that pre-reg students might have with obtaining sufficient clinical experience.

“We hope these temporary changes to the handbook help ensure that our student and pre-reg members can safely complete their education and training in what will be challenging circumstances,” Mr Stafford added.

The temporary changes to the handbook affecting undergraduate students will be applicable from 1 September for the next academic year (2020/21) only.

Similarly, the changes that affect the College of Optometrists’ Scheme for Registration, or other registrable qualifications, will be applicable to the incoming cohort of students and trainees enrolling onto the Scheme between 1 September 2020 and 30 May 2021.

This article was updated on 28 August 2020 to provide further clarity on the definition of a non-GOC fully-qualified registrant.