GOC publishes research in to risk in the optical professions

The General Optical Council (GOC) has today published research into risk in the optical professions. The research identifies current and future risks posed to patients and the public by optical professionals.

Analysis showed that optometry and dispensing optics remain low risk when compared to other healthcare professionals such as doctors and nurses. However, the research shows that the risk profile of the professions could increase in the future as registrants take on more clinical work and encounter patients with more complex needs.

A variety of methods were used to conduct the research, including an online registrant survey, followed by focus groups and in-depth interviews with registrants and key stakeholders. Secondary research was also conducted via an analysis of GOC Fitness to Practise (FTP) data and information from the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS).

An analysis of the allegations received for each FTP case highlights that the most common allegations related to incorrect or missed diagnosis, inappropriate or missed referrals, failure to conduct appropriate tests, incorrect prescriptions provided, inaccurate/inadequate advice provided, and poor record keeping.

Registrants who participated in the research perceived that the riskier areas of practice related to detecting and managing ocular disease, referral decisions and independent prescribing (for optometrists).

Participants also viewed poor communication with patients and not being candid when things go wrong as two riskier areas of practice. It was suggested by some that poor communication could become a more severe risk in the future, because effective communication is likely to become increasingly important as optical professionals take on more clinical roles and responsibilities. More routine areas such as the sight test and fitting spectacles were seen as less risky.

In terms of risks related to the context in which registrants work, participants perceived the following as most likely to occur in practice:

  • Time constraints with patients
  • Commercial and performance target pressure
  • Poor or inadequate staffing
  • Working as a locum

The research also explored perceptions of the future risks to patients in the next five years. Stakeholders identified the following top four:

  • Commercial pressure/ targets and time constraints
  • Pressure on hospital services (delayed referrals/long waiting times)
  • Lack of skills and/or training for enhanced optical services
  • Unregulated online sales of contact lenses and spectacles

Dr Subo Shanmuganathan, interim Director of Education said:

"Since we last conducted this research in 2010 the optical sector has changed a great deal. This research has provided a wealth of invaluable information about both the perceptions of risk and what we see as trends from our FTP cases. The research findings will help improve the actions we take to protect patients.

"One of the key insights that emerged from the research was the view that optical education and training needs to evolve to prepare newly qualified and existing registrants for changes in the optical sector. We will use this knowledge to inform both our Continuing Education and Training (CET) and Education Strategic Reviews.

"I would like to thank all of our registrants and stakeholders who participated. Many gave us a lot of their valuable time and the quality of the research reflects that input."

Read the research report in full.


For further information please contact:

Communications Team

General Optical Council

t: 020 7307 3478 – option 3

e: communications@optical.org

About the General Optical Council

  1. The GOC is the regulator for the optical professions in the UK. Its purpose is to protect the public by promoting high standards of education, conduct and performance amongst opticians. The Council currently registers over 30,000 optometrists, dispensing opticians, student opticians and optical businesses.
  2. The research was conducted by Enventure Research, an independent research agency. GOC previously commissioned research into risk in the optical professions in 2010.
  3. The GOC and OCCS datasets which were analysed covered the time period from April 2016 to April 2018, following the introduction of the GOC’s new Standards of Practice for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians. The data comprised of 376 FTP cases received by the GOC and 2,911 OCCS complaints.