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News from General Optical Council

News from General Optical Council

The General Optical Council (GOC) held its first Council meeting of the year on 13 March 2024.

Council Chair Dr Anne Wright CBE welcomed Dr Hema Radhakrishnan to her first Council meeting. Hema’s term begins on 15 March, taking over from Dr David Parkins.

Dr Wright also thanked David for his eight years of service on the GOC Council and the expertise on NHS England and clinical commissioning he has provided throughout.

Strategic Plan 2025-30

Council approved the draft consultation on the GOC’s vision, mission, and strategic objectives for its next five-year strategic plan.

The GOC’s proposed vision – ‘Safe and effective eye care for all’ – aims to provide a concise and externally focused goal of what the GOC seeks to achieve for the purpose of public protection. Language has been updated in the proposed mission statement – ‘To protect the public by upholding high standards in eye care services.’

These are supported by three strategic objectives: creating fairer and more inclusive eye care services; supporting responsible innovation and protecting the public; and preventing harm through agile regulation.

Council discussed the importance of a varied methodology for gaining feedback on the strategic proposals, emphasising the need to reach out to stakeholders less likely to respond to online consultations. Noting the timely moment for developing the strategy, given the increasing public focus on the role of registrants in future eye care services, Council also highlighted the need for flexibility in the new strategy. The GOC aims to develop a high-level strategic plan that remains adaptable over its five-year run, keeping up with the pace of change across the optical sector.

Consultation will begin in April and is due to be agreed by Council at its December meeting. The final strategic plan 2025-30 is due to be published in early 2025.

 

EDI Action Plan 2024-25

Council approved the release of £20,000 from the GOC financial reserves to fund additional research into ‘unfairness’ in Fitness to Practise decision-making. The findings of this research will assist the GOC in reducing disproportionate and unfair referrals, and in the implementation of consequential action plans to reduce any evidenced unfair differential attainment. This work is supported by  separate ‘lived experience’ research projects investigating the barriers faced when accessing eye care services and negative behaviours in the workplace. The GOC’s Policy and Standards Team will commission the lived experience research and use its data to inform the next strategic plan.

In its last two performance reviews of the GOC, the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) has commended the work undertaken towards promoting and embedding equality, diversity, and inclusion throughout the GOC’s work. Council welcomed these achievements and supported the GOC’s ambition to reach beyond the criteria set by the PSA, proactively pursing a commitment to EDI in all aspects of the organisation.

Council approved the EDI Action Plan 2024-25 which will guide the GOC’s EDI work until the implementation of its dedicated EDI Strategy 2025-30, a sub-strategy of the broader strategic plan.

 

Business Plan and Budget 2024-25

Council heard the ambitious range of work planned for 2024-25, as outlined in the new external business plan. Moving towards a new strategy for 2025-30, the GOC will undertake various policy research projects to develop an evidence base for its future work.

The projects have been costed against current rates of inflation and market volatility to ensure the GOC remains financially sound during this period of work. The annual budget features funding for new projects, including the research outlined in the EDI Action Plan, the development of a revised operating model for legal support in Fitness to Practise cases, and investment into Learning and Development. Funding will be continued for ongoing projects, such as the Education and Training requirements and review of office accommodation.

Both the external business plan and budget 2024-25 were approved, subject to minor corrections.

 

Gender Consultation

In December 2023, the GOC launched a consultation on removing information about a registrant’s gender from its public register. Responses to the consultation differed in makeup, with a higher rate of individual registrants responding than typically found.

Council was conscious that views on this issue may be held strongly and affirmed the importance  of patients being able to seek care from an optical professional of their own sex. Website use analysis found that very few people use the GOC’s online register to find this information, which is also available by contacting the optical practice directly.

During its discussion, Council commented that providing information about a registrant’s gender did not hold a public protection purpose and removing it would better align the GOC’s register with other health and care regulators. It also noted that no other protected characteristics are recorded on the register and that providing this type of information without a public protection purpose could lead to concerns around personal privacy. Some respondents to the consultation suggested that its removal could also prevent potential unconscious biases against female optical professionals.

Council approved the proposal to remove gender information from the public register. The GOC will continue to collect this information for its internal monitoring purposes.

 

Member Fees

Following a review of benchmarked data by the GOC Remuneration Committee, Council discussed updates to the fees for work undertaken for the GOC. This includes payments for members of Council and the GOC’s Committees and Panels.

Council noted the need for rates to remain competitive, encouraging registrants from varied backgrounds to engage with GOC roles. It also discussed whether fees should be set at flat rates or adjusted for regional variation. Agreeing that the complexity of introducing a fee system at that granularity was impractical, Council approved the proposed member fees.

 

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