GOC publishes new Speaking Up guidance for registrants

The General Optical Council (GOC) has launched new guidance to help registrants in situations where they need to consider the professional requirement to speak up when patient or public safety may be at risk.

It covers all concerns such as when something has been observed that appears seriously wrong or is not in accordance with the accepted standards for optometrists and dispensing opticians, optical businesses and students, including what may be termed ‘whistleblowing’ and/or ‘raising concerns’.

The guidance replaces the GOC’s previous guidance on ‘Raising concerns with the GOC (whistleblowing) policy’. It is split into two parts: one for individuals and the other for businesses. It makes the GOC’s expectations of registrants clearer and covers various areas, including why it’s important to speak up, when to consider speaking up and how, including speaking up to the GOC, as well as maintaining and promoting awareness within businesses. It also includes a flowchart which outlines the speaking up process and key organisations if registrants need to seek advice.

The guidance has been written in line with the GOC’s duty of candour guidance and should be read alongside the Standards of Practice for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians, Standards for Optical Businesses and Standards for Optical Students, which registrants must apply to their practice.

A draft version of the guidance was consulted on from December 2020 to March 2021, following learnings from recent healthcare inquiries into issues where staff’s concerns were not appropriately actioned, such as the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry. In addition, the guidance follows on from the GOC’s recent publication of the ‘Whistleblowing disclosures report 2021’, a cross-regulatory effort to be more transparent about how regulators handle complaints.

Marie Bunby, Head of Policy and Standards, 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 nine per cent 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.

We encourage 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. We will be working with other organisations to encourage CPD.”

View the ‘Speaking up’ guidance and the GOC’s response to the consultation.