What does our registrant survey 2023 tell us about the experiences of optical professionals?

We have now published the GOC’s 2023 registrant survey. This is an opportunity for registrants to tell us about their experiences of working with patients, the challenges they face, and the career aspirations they have. It is important for us to collect this data regularly and hear their views so we, along with the wider optical sector, can help ensure that optometrists and dispensing opticians feel supported, valued, and operate in an environment that is conducive to providing good patient care.

While our public perceptions survey shows high levels of patient satisfaction and confidence in the professions, the experiences of registrants paint a different picture. This year’s data shows that there are still a concerning number who struggle with heavy workloads and providing patients with a sufficient standard of care. Stress, burnout, and disillusionment mean many are still unhappy at work. Moreover, this year, new data reveals that many GOC registrants are subject to bullying, abuse, harassment, and discrimination at work, with the highest levels coming from patients / service users and to a lesser extent managers and colleagues. Much of this behaviour goes unreported and therefore unresolved.

Comparing our data with the NHS workforce survey, we found that GOC registrants experienced higher levels of bullying, abuse and harassment at work than NHS staff. It is difficult to pinpoint why this might be the case, but perhaps it could be down to customer service expectations not being met, as care is delivered within a high street setting with patients paying themselves for services and optical appliances. Further research is needed to explore these findings.

Mental health and wellbeing is a hot topic in healthcare at the moment, and these trends are worryingly common across the sector. A recent report by the GMC shows doctors feeling dissatisfied and unable to cope, and similarly to our data, particular groups such as registrants with a disability experiencing higher levels of negative working conditions. This presents a serious challenge to regulators and the wider healthcare sector. A workforce that that is burnt-out, stressed, and feels under-valued, is not one that is in an optimum place to provide high quality patient care. A recent report by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman states that patient safety will always be a risk in environments where healthcare professionals are exhausted, stressed and under unsustainable pressure.

In terms of what the sector can do to foster a more positive working environment, we know that registrants with a broad and varied clinical role, and those delivering enhanced services, have greater job satisfaction levels and find their jobs rewarding and interesting. A good working environment, work life balance and feeling valued were also key reasons for job satisfaction. Is there more the sector can do to provide learning and development opportunities to registrants, appreciating that different commissioning structures within the UK will impact on the ability of registrants to gain and use additional post registration qualifications in their daily role?

Tackling negative working conditions will likely require a multi-faceted response by a variety of different bodies, including employers, professional and membership bodies, and us as the regulator. We are committed to playing our part in this, by reviewing the standards we set for individual registrants and optical businesses and making any necessary changes to ensure they help build a more positive working environment. We are planning to convene a meeting in September with organisational stakeholders to help encourage others within the sector to take an active role in addressing these issues.