News from Council - 22 March 2023

The General Optical Council (GOC) held its first Council meeting of the year on 22 March 2023. During the meeting, Council approved the response to the 2022 call for evidence and its analysis, the budget and Business Plan for 2023-24, communications strategy, and the updated Investment Policy and Serious and Significant Incidents Policy.

Legislative Reform

Council received an update on the GOC’s proposed programme of legislative reform, based on an analysis of stakeholder responses to the 2022 call for evidence, and approved the GOC response, subject to minor amendments.

The call for evidence was conducted to help the GOC consider whether the Opticians Act is fit for purpose and whether there is any evidence of impact (positive or negative) to support any changes to the Act. This was combined with a consultation on associated GOC policies, specifically whether the GOC should amend or remove its 2013 statement on testing of sight, which provides that refraction cannot be delegated for the purposes of a sight test.

The call for evidence sits alongside the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) ongoing consultation designed to modernise the regulatory frameworks for fitness to practise, education, registration, and governance across all healthcare regulators.

After careful consideration, Council decided not to permit refraction by dispensing opticians for the purposes of the sight test, but agreed to revisit its 2013 policy statement so that it reflects contemporary practice, taking account of technological developments and changing business models.

A key priority for the GOC will be to develop and consult on a new framework for business regulation. Council agreed to seek legislative change that would extend regulation to all businesses carrying out restricted activities, regardless of their name, corporate structure, or who owns and manages them. The next phase of work will be to develop a draft framework for business regulation, which will be subject to public consultation in due course.

Through a review of its standards, the GOC will be able to make progress in key areas without legislative reform, including dispensing to vulnerable patients and the use of technology in optical services. It also plans to discuss regulations related to criteria for visual impairment and online spectacle sales with the DHSC.

The GOC anticipates publishing the final response document in April. It will then prepare a timetable to deliver on  the commitments set out in the response document. Where the GOC considers changes to legislation or GOC policy are necessary and can be evidenced, it will carry out further public and targeted stakeholder consultation activities on its proposals.

Read more about the GOC’s legislative reform and analysis of the 2022 call for evidence responses.

Budget and External Business Plan 2023/24

Council approved the proposed budget for 2023-24, subject to minor amendments. The budget has been designed in line with the GOC’s ‘Fit for the Future’ strategy and five-year financial forecast. Additional funding has been given to the Education Team to support the ongoing adaptation programme for the new education and training requirements. Other projects in the budget include plans for future patient/public engagement, research, and consultation activities and a new case management system.

The Business Plan 2023/24 was also approved by Council, which outlines the GOC’s upcoming projects to support its three key priorities:

  • world-class regulatory practice;
  • transforming customer service; and
  • continuous improvement.

Over the next year, the GOC will focus on the key projects below to ensure public safety and confidence:

  • Delivering a new and effective case management system for Fitness to Practise cases to support the robust management of its end-to-end casework process.
  • Sharing learning from Fitness to Practise outcomes with registrants to embed good practice and continue to embed improvements in its triage and casework processes.
  • Supporting registrants to maximise their professional capability through improvements to the MyGOC and MyCPD platforms, and implementing a new Customer Care Strategy.
  • Continuing to administer its new, more flexible CPD scheme, designed to provide registrants with more control over their own learning and development through the opportunity to tailor their personal scope of practice.
  • Revise and update the existing Standards of Practice for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians and Standards for Students, to comply with the GOC’s statutory duties, and ensure continued public protection.

The External Business Plan 2023/24 will be published shortly.

Communications Strategy

Council approved the new Communications Strategy, which has been produced to support the delivery of the final ‘Fit for the Future’ strategic priorities and to help the GOC prepare for the next strategic planning period, 2025-2030.

It outlines the core principles for the GOC’s communications with a variety of stakeholders, including registrants, optical bodies, and the public. The Strategy aims to bolster the GOC in developing an authoritative voice and brand, which will allow it to engage with and influence external developments, such as the DHSC’s proposed regulatory legislative reform.

Approval on Policies

Council approved the updated Investment Policy, which will be reviewed annually by the Investment Committee to ensure continuing appropriateness and revised every three years. Council also approved the Serious and Significant Incidents Policy, which aims to reduce risk and ensure the GOC’s ongoing compliance with the Charity Commission’s guidance on serious incidents. The policy supports the GOC in its strategic objective to build a culture of continuous improvement.

The approved policies will be published in due course.

New Council Members

This was the first Council meeting for Ken Gill (lay Council member) and William Stockdale (registrant Council member). Ken and William began their terms on 1 January 2023.