News from Council 14 July 2021

The General Optical Council (GOC) held its second Council meeting of the year, which considered three qualifications for approval, progress against the GOC’s fitness to practise (FtP) performance projections, Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS) annual report for 2020-21, and the annual monitoring report (AMR) for sector education providers.

Qualification approval

The Council approved qualifications at the following universities:

  • University of the West of England (UWE) – Bachelor of Science (Honours) Optometry
  • University of Hertfordshire – Independent Prescribing for Optometrists
  • University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) – Bachelor of Science (Honours) Ophthalmic Dispensing

Under the Opticians Act, the GOC has the power to approve qualifications and education institutions offering optical training.

Fitness to practise (FtP) performance

The Council meeting covered the progress made against the GOC’s 2020-21 FtP performance projections and its performance expectations for 2021-22.

Since the FtP Improvement Programme was introduced in 2019, the number of investigations opened were reduced from 161 in 2019-20 to 65 in 2020-21. This is due to the introduction of acceptance criteria for individual registrants and subsequently businesses, which sets out a threshold against which new FtP complaints are assessed before being accepted for investigation.

In addition, the GOC continues to develop its in-house case-management knowledge and expand the number of cases dealt with in-house, and has implemented an independent, emotional support service for registrants and witnesses.

Council also noted the success of ‘FtP FOCUS’, a learning bulletin for registrants on the FtP process, which was first introduced in December 2020. The first and second editions focused on the triage and investigation stages, respectively, and the third edition, due out this summer, will focus on the case examiner stage.

Looking forward, the GOC will revise its improvement programme to focus on identifying a case management solution that will fully support the team with efficient case progression, and improving collection, collation and analysis of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion data.

Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS) Annual Report 2020-21

The Council noted the annual report from the OCCS, which is an independent and free mediation service for patients of optical care and the professionals providing that care, funded by the GOC.

The OCCS saw 1,411 referrals in 2020-21, with most of these complaints falling under the categories of ‘customer care’ and ‘goods and services’. This is a 12.4% decrease in referrals compared to 2019-20.

The GOC will continue to work closely with the OCCS to discuss lower-level complaints which are unlikely to meet the threshold for a FtP investigation. During 2019-2020, there was an 80% reduction in referrals from the OCCS into the GOC’s fitness to practise team, and this low volume has been maintained over the last year.

Annual monitoring report (AMR) for sector education providers

The Council noted the 2019-20 AMR, which forms part of the GOC’s Approval and Quality Assurance (A&QA) cycle for all education providers offering GOC-approved qualifications.

The report is an opportunity for the GOC to verify key changes, events and risks submitted by education providers and consider them in a wider sector context.

This year’s report focussed more on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on optical education, as well as gathering data relating to programme delivery, progression, lessons learnt and good practice.

The Council heard that positively, providers were able to adapt resourcefully and efficiently to the lockdown and adopt contingencies that met their academic standards as well as the GOC’s requirements. In addition, recruitment to most optometry programmes has not been affected by the pandemic.

However, many dispensing optics programmes suffered poor recruitment and awarding bodies were severely affected by the pandemic. Pre-registration periods were suspended, and practical examinations were postponed, which led to fewer students qualifying as optometrists or dispensing opticians in the 2019/20 year.

To help providers meet requirements during the lockdown, the GOC implemented temporary changes to the optometry quality assurance handbook and supervision policy, which helped optometry programmes provide clinical experience even if real patient experience was scarce.

The Council Papers for July 2021 are available here.