GOC approves updated requirements for prescribing training

Under the changes, trainees will no longer need to have been practising for two years before taking on the independent prescribing qualification

Pexels/Ksenia Chernaya

The General Optical Council (GOC) has approved updated education and training requirements for post-registration prescribing qualifications.

The AOP has welcomed the revisions to the requirements, which are expected to enhance capacity and support optometrists in meeting patient needs in the future.

The updated requirements, which were approved by the GOC’s council in its final meeting of 2021 yesterday (8 December), applies to GOC-approved qualifications in additional supply (AS), supplementary prescribing (SP) and independent prescribing (IP) categories.

The proposed Outcomes for Approved Qualifications, Standards for Approved Qualifications, and Quality and Assurance Enhancement Method, went through a public consultation from July to October this year.

The new requirements will replace A handbook for optometry specialist registration in therapeutic prescribing, published in 2008, and the Competency framework for independent prescribing, published in 2011, along with the policies on supervision and recognition of prior learning.

Key changes under the updated requirements include that those interested in undertaking an AS, SP, or IP qualification will no longer need to have been practising for two years before they can train.

Trainees will also be required to have identified a “suitably experienced and qualified designated prescribing practitioner (DPP)” to supervise their 90 hours of practice learning and experience. Speaking to OT earlier this year, GOC director of education, Leonie Milliner, who is due to become CEO and registrar for the regulator from January, described this as an “appropriately trained and qualified registered healthcare professional with independent prescribing rights.”

This is a change from the current requirement of a designated medical practitioner (DMP), such as an ophthalmologist.

Speaking at the GOC council meeting on Wednesday, independent prescribing optometrist and council member, Frank Munro, shared that the current requirement to be supervised by an ophthalmologist had created a bottleneck in hospital placements, adding: "I wholly welcome this development."

In addition, trainees will now receive a single qualification approved by the GOC, which will lead to specialist entry to the register. The qualification will either be an academic award, or regulated qualification, at a minimum of Regulated Qualification Framework (or equivalent) Level 7/11 for AS, SP and or IP.

This will be in place of the two approved qualifications needed under the current system.

Saqib Ahmad, policy officer for the AOP, commented: “We welcome these revisions to the education requirements for prescribing training as a way of building the profession’s capacity to deliver the optical care services that patients will need in future.”

“The GOC and sector should support IP optometrists to maintain their skills following qualification,” he added, highlighting: “We also want to ensure that those who are struggling to find a placement under the current system will be supported to complete their qualification as we move to the new education system.”

The GOC said it will work with providers from January 2022 to adapt their existing approved qualifications or develop new ones to meet the new outcomes and standards.

It is anticipated that most providers will begin to admit trainees to approved qualifications meeting the new requirements by September 2023. Trainees currently enrolled on existing programmes will not be affected by the changes.

Alongside the new requirements, the GOC’s council approved the use of reserves to facilitate a cross-sector knowledge hub to help programme and module leaders in the development of new integrated qualifications meeting the updated requirements.

The hub will act as an independent forum for academic staff, preceptors and DPPs to share best practice and ask questions.

Thanking stakeholders for their input into the new requirements, Milliner commented: “These are fundamental and urgently required changes which will play an important part in building registrants’ capacity to meet future patient and service user needs within service redesign in each nation of the UK.”

Milliner acknowledged that the optical body is asking qualification providers “to make significant changes to their programmes over the next few years,” and added that the council has therefore agreed to back “three additional projects over the next three years to support the introduction of the updated requirements.”

Describing the process so far as “extremely collaborative,” Milliner emphasised: “We will continue to work with providers, trainees, commissioners and the optical sector every step of the way to ensure a smooth transition to the new requirements.”

More updates from the council meeting can be found on the GOC website. 

The AOP’s response to recent consultations, including to the GOC’s new education framework for prescribing qualifications, can be found on the AOP website.