GOC welcomes potential healthcare regulatory reform
While the DHSC has said that a newly opened consultation involving the GMC could act as a model for further regulatory reform, the AOP has emphasised that any change in optics is unlikely to be imminent
28 February 2023
The General Optical Council (GOC) has welcomed a consultation on healthcare regulatory reform, which it says represents “an important step in reforming the legislation that underpins the UK’s health and care regulators.”
On 17 February, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) opened a consultation on new draft legislation that would allow the General Medical Council (GMC) to regulate anaesthesia associates and physician associates.
The DHSC said that it now has “a rare and significant opportunity to deliver a large-scale programme of reform that will implement improvements to the system of professional regulation, to the health and care workforce and, most importantly, to patient and public safety.”
The GMC consultation will be open until 16 May 2023, with draft legislation expected to reach Parliament in the second half of 2023.
While the legislation will only affect the GMC, it will be “part of a broader package of reforms to regulators’ governing [of] legislation,” the DHSC said, with reforms of the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Health and Care Professions Council following in the coming years.
The GOC believes that the GMC draft will “act as a template for the future regulation of other healthcare professionals, including dispensing opticians and optometrists.”
Current legislation on the optometry profession has not been updated for over 30 years, the GOC said.
The regulator noted that while optical regulation is not in the first wave of proposed reforms, it will prepare for any changes by “reviewing its own legislation and reflecting on responses received to its 2022 Call for Evidence, so it is best placed to move forwards quickly once the DHSC announces a clear timeframe.”
The GOC’s chief executive and registrar, Leonie Milliner, said: “This is a once in a generation opportunity to reform the regulatory landscape across health and social care.”
Milliner hopes that potential reform to optometry “will enable us to create a more modern and flexible system of regulation which will better protect the public and support GOC registrants” and that it will allow the GOC to “respond to challenges more quickly and in doing so provide better support to patients, the public, and the optical sector.”
She added: “This is an important opportunity to modernise the way the GOC carries out its regulatory functions. These reforms, when enacted, will give the GOC greater autonomy in discharging its regulatory responsibilities to the benefit of patients and the public, and in doing so, uphold the reputation of the professions it regulates.”
Evidence gathered by the GOC in 2022 on the Opticians Act will be used as a basis for the regulator’s response to the DHSC consultation, Milliner said.
Steve Brooker, director of regulatory strategy at the GOC, told OT that the GOC’s current framework is “rigid and complex and can be slow to change.”
Changes to legislation would allow the GOC to improve its policies and processes and make changes to governance – for example, the size and composition of its board, Brooker said.
He added: “The proposed reforms will enable us to create a more modern and flexible system of regulation, which means we will be able to respond to challenges more quickly and in doing so continue to deliver effective public protection.”
The AOP view
AOP policy adviser, Kathy Jones, said: “The AOP has reviewed the Government’s report of the responses to its 2021 consultation and welcomes the fact that any reforms to the regulation of healthcare professions will happen slowly and incrementally, with consultation on each new proposal.
“The only concrete proposal so far is that the new professions of physician associate and anaesthesia associate will become regulated, and that they will come under the GMC. There are no proposals at this stage that will affect optometrists.
“The future could bring opportunities, but equally we will be watchful for any moves to deregulate or remove the protected functions of our members that are there to protect the public from unsafe and illegal practice.”
Jones added: “We will engage with GOC’s continuing review of the Opticians Act, making sure that the GOC hears the views of our members at every stage.”