New ‘Speaking Up’ guidance published by the GOC

The optical regulator has updated its guidance for registrants who need to ‘whistleblow’ when patient or public safety is potentially at risk

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The General Optical Council (GOC) has published new guidance for registrants who find themselves needing to speak out when patient or public safety may be at risk.

The guidance, entitled Speaking Up, replaces the GOC’s ‘Raising concerns with the GOC (whistleblowing) policy,’ and is split into two parts: one for individuals and one for businesses.

Registrants have a professional requirement to speak out in situations that could potentially cause harm, such as when a behaviour, process or action is not in accordance with the accepted standards for the profession.

Speaking out in such situations may be termed ‘whistleblowing’ and/or ‘raising concerns.’

It is hoped that the updated guidance will make the GOC’s expectations of registrants clearer. Areas covered include:

  • Why it’s important to speak up
  • When to consider speaking up
  • How to go about the process
  • Speaking to the GOC
  • Maintaining and promoting awareness within businesses.

The guidance also includes a flowchart that outlines the speaking up process, and details key organisations that registrants could consider speaking to if they need to seek advice.

The GOC advises that registrants read the Speaking Up guidance alongside its Standards of Practice for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians, Standards for Optical Businesses, Standards for Optical Students, and its Professional duty of candour guidance.

The new guidance also follows on from the ‘Whistleblowing disclosures report 2021,’ which is available on the GOC website.

Marie Bunby, head of policy and standards at the GOC, said: “We acknowledge that there are barriers to speaking up which can make it a difficult thing to do, so we have ensured it is clear for businesses what the potential barriers might be and what they can do to create a culture of speaking up. We have also emphasised that businesses should ensure that anyone speaking up, or considering speaking up, is not victimised or discriminated against.

“We recognise that some registrants have the impression that we do not investigate business registrants, however our annual report for 2019/20 shows that 9% of the investigations we opened were into business registrants, in line with the total number of business registrants on our register. We will explore how we can better communicate the outcomes of fitness to practise cases, including against business registrants, in the future.”

She also encouraged all registrants to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) in this area, “so they feel confident to speak up when they need to in order to protect the public.”

The guidance was put together after a consultation took place between December 2020 and March this year.

Dr Peter Hampson, clinical and professional director at the AOP, said: “Registrants are required to speak out in situations that could potentially cause harm but of course, the steps for doing so are not always easy to take or feel straightforward – making the process all the harder to navigate.

“We’re hopeful that this new guidance from the GOC will help registrants understand why raising concerns is so vital and what is expected of them ,and make that whistleblowing process clearer for those that need it.

“Speaking out can help remedy poor practice and prevent harm – we encourage all practitioners to familiarise themselves with the guidance so they feel supported to take action where needed.”

The Speaking Up guidance can be viewed on the GOC website.

If AOP members have concerns with regard to the speaking up guidance, they should contact the AOP by emailing [email protected]