News from Council – 29 June 2022

We held our second Council meeting of the year on 29 June 2022. The agenda included a number of strategically important items including the approval of our updated illegal practice protocol, approval to proceed with the recruitment of two Council members, and approval of the terms of reference of Council’s committees and Advisory Panel. In addition, Council received the Optical Consumer Complaints Service’s (OCCS) Annual Report for 2021-22, the Annual Monitoring & Reporting (AMR) Sector Report for the academic year 2020-21 and the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) performance review for 2020/21.

Illegal practice protocol

Council considered the responses received to the public consultation on the proposed updated illegal practice protocol and approved the updated illegal practice protocol.

Based on the feedback received during the public consultation, we made the following further amendments to the protocol that we consulted on:

  • potential for serious harm, in addition to actual harm, has been included as a factor indicating higher risk caused by illegal practice;
  • the case assessor and/or reviewing lawyer will seek advice from the GOC’s clinical advisers about clinical risk in appropriate cases;
  • sections about legislation relating to the testing of sight and sale of prescription spectacles have been made clearer; and
  • provision that the GOC may re-open a complaint following a referral to a third party if the third party is unable to act and the statutory time limit for bringing a prosecution has not expired.

Read more about this, and view the full updated illegal practice protocol, in our press release.

Council member recruitment update

Council approved the recruitment for two new Council members, subject to approval by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA).

Should the PSA provide approval, a recruitment campaign will launch in September 2022.

The recruitment campaign will be for:

  • one Lay Member with expertise in audit, risk and finance; and
  • one Registrant Member (Dispensing Optician or Contact Lens Optician)

The appointments will commence on 1 January 2023. Two long-standing members of Council are due to come to the end of their tenure on 31 December 2022: Glenn Tomison, Registrant Council member (Dispensing Optician) and Senior Council member; and Rosie Glazebrook, Lay Council member and Chair of the Registration Committee.

Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS) Annual Report 2021-2022: ‘Forging the Future’

Council noted the annual report from the OCCS, which acts as a mediation service between patients and registrants on a variety of lower-level complaints which may otherwise be received by our fitness to practise team. Law firm Nockolds have delivered the service since 2014.

The report shows that in 2021-22, OCCS received over a fifth more referrals compared to 2020-2021 levels. This is an eight percent increase on pre-pandemic referrals during 2019-2020 and reflects a similar trend in referrals into the GOC as well. The largest proportion of complaints related to the provision of goods and services (46 percent), a ten-percentage point increase on the previous year. Complaints about customer care reduced this year by five percentage points.

The report also highlights our greater and more frequent collaboration with the OCCS, ensuring that concerns which did not meet the threshold for regulatory intervention were, where appropriate, diverted to the OCCS at the earliest stage.

As a result of this new initiative, referrals from the GOC to the OCCS made up five percent of the OCCS receipts in 2021-2022 – an increase from two percent or less in previous years. To safeguard against any risk of under-prosecution, a fast-track return process was established if any information was provided during the mediation that indicated a broader regulatory concern. The OCCS referred five matters to the GOC this year.

The full report will soon be available on the OCCS website.

Annual Monitoring & Reporting (AMR) Sector Report for the academic year 2020-21

Council noted the AMR for the academic year 2020-21, which forms part of the GOC’s Approval and Quality Assurance (A&QA) cycle for all education providers offering GOC-approved qualifications.

The AMR is an opportunity for us to verify key changes, events and risks submitted by education providers and consider them in a wider sector context. This year it also included questions on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on optical education and initial enquiries on the transition to our new Education and Training requirements.

Key findings in the report include:

  • While the pandemic continues to impact the education sector, there are indications that some pre-pandemic formats and activities are gradually being re-introduced such as in-person teaching and ‘closed-book’ examinations. Some teaching methods deployed during the pandemic, such as using online learning resources, may continue to remain in use for the foreseeable future.
  • Whilst applications for Optometry qualifications were buoyant in 2020/21, applications for Dispensing Optics qualifications saw another fall in 2020/21. The AMR suggests that the decline is caused by the ongoing pandemic which deterred employers from funding students’ studies or led to prospective students being furloughed from their work, as well as more optometry provision.

Professional Standards Authority (PSA) performance review 2020/21

Council noted the publication of the Professional Standards Authority’s (PSA) review of our performance for 2020/21, published in March 2022.

This year we met 17 of the PSA’s 18 Standards. This is an improvement on our 2019/20 performance review when we met 16 of the 18 Standards.

All of the PSA Standards under the headings of General Standards, Guidance and Standards, Registration, and Education and Training were met, with four of the five standards for Fitness to Practise met. 

While Standard 15 (Fitness to Practise) was not met due to the length of time it has taken to conclude cases, the PSA noted that the GOC has made significant progress in implementing its improvement plan, with it being the only healthcare regulator to have reduced its open caseload of older cases since the start of the pandemic.

Read our full press release here

Read the full review on the Professional Standards Authority’s website.

Council’s Committees and Advisory Panel Terms of Reference

Council approved updated terms of reference for Council’s committees (Education, Registration, Standards and Companies) and its Advisory Panel.

The Advisory Panel was formed in July 2019 with the intention of replacing separate meetings of Council’s four committees with a central Panel.

The revised terms of reference ensure that the role of the Advisory Panel and Council committees, and the relationship between each, are clearly articulated. The committee chairs have provided feedback to ensure that the terms of reference remain clear and support the committees in delivering their statutory responsibilities.

Changes identified have been made in the Advisory Panel terms of reference, to ensure consistency of terminology and practice.

The revised terms of reference will also support feedback received from the PSA in our 2020/21 performance review, which stated that notes of Advisory Panel meetings should be published. Going forward, the minutes for the Advisory Panel and its committees will be reported to Council and made publicly available on our website.

The new terms of reference will be published on our website shortly.

The full Council Papers for June 2022 are available here.