Celebrating 65 years’ of the GOC

Chief Executive and Registrar Leonie Milliner reflects on the progress of the General Optical Council (GOC) since it first began in 1958. 

Beginning of the GOC  

Before the Opticians Act received Royal Assent on 7 July 1958, there had been a long-running debate for more than 60 years about how the optical professions might be regulated. The first attempt at registration was in Manchester 1904 by M S Dunscombe, president of the British Optical Association (BOA), who wanted to promote a Bill to ‘define and regulate the practice of optology’. 

Over the next several decades, various optical bodies were set up to put forward a draft Bill which would recognise a single body to register and certify optical professionals. Opticians faced opposition from medical professionals, who thought that non-medical practitioners were not competent to test eyesight and detect problems. 

In 1949, a report was produced by an interdepartmental committee chaired by Lord Crook, which recommended the formation of a General Optical Council. Eventually, a Private Members’ Bill based on the Crook Report was put forward by Ronald S Russell, MP for Wembley South, which resulted in the Opticians Act 1958 and subsequently the formation of the General Optical Council. In 1960, the first opticians register was published. The Opticians Act was then reviewed in 1989 which consolidated the 1958 Act.  

What we have achieved so far 

As a healthcare regulator, protecting patients and the public has remained at the heart of everything we do. 

In 2021, we published new education and training requirements (ETR) which incorporate an outcomes-based approach and integrates patient-facing learning experience within a single approved qualification so that students are better prepared to meet the needs of patients within service redesign.  

We reviewed our CET scheme and in January 2022 introduced a new three-year Continuing Professional Development (CPD) scheme.  The new CPD scheme offers greater flexibility, so professionals can plan, undertake and reflect upon professional development and learning that is most suited to their needs and specific scope of practice. 

We recently published our response to our call for evidence, which sought views, information and factual evidence on the need for changes to the Opticians Act and associated GOC policies. We conducted this alongside the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) ongoing consultation designed to modernise the regulatory frameworks across all healthcare regulators so that we are ready for legislative reform when the time comes. 

We remain committed to enhancing our use of digital technology to improve the way we operate and deliver excellent customer service. We recently launched a brand-new website featuring an enhanced public register, clearer navigation, sophisticated search function, accessible design, and user-friendly forms so visitors can easily and quickly find what they need and complete tasks. 

For the first time in just under a decade, we met all 18 of the Professional Standards Authority’s (PSA) Standards of Good Regulation in 2021/22. This is important assurance in our journey to become a world-class regulator.  

Looking to the future 

Over the next couple of years, our focus will remain on transforming customer service, building a culture of continuous improvement, and delivering world-class regulatory practice in line with our Fit for the Future strategy for 2020-25.  

Work is underway to develop and deliver an improved and modernised MyGOC registrant portal, which will make it quicker and simpler for registrants to manage their registration with us.  

As part of our call for evidence, we will soon begin work to consult on various position statements including the verification of contact lens specification and spectacle prescription, and the definition of aftercare. We also plan to consult on a new model for business regulation and on our Standards of Practice in the areas of dispensing to vulnerable patients and use of technology. In addition, we will update our 2013 statement on the testing of sight. 

Work will continue on reviewing our Standards of Practice for optical professionals to ensure they are fit for purpose, and reflect the current context within which registrants practice, students are trained, and businesses operate.  We will consult on our standards in early 2024, so registrants, professional bodies, the public, and other stakeholders will have a chance to influence our standards as they develop. 

Although it may seem like 2025 is far away, work will shortly be underway in developing our new corporate strategy for 2025-2030 (our working title is ‘Shaping the Future’), which will include a new vision, mission and strategic objectives. 

This certainly doesn’t capture everything we are doing at the GOC to ensure we continue to protect the public and its confidence in the professions we regulate – but it gives you a flavour of what we’ll be up to over the coming years to ensure the discharge of our regulatory responsibilities matches  patient and public expectations as both the sector and service delivery continues to evolve.