The Health and Social Care Act 2012 requires all provides of NHS services to hold a licence issued by Monitor – the sector regulator – unless an exemption is granted. The licence is Monitor’s main tool for regulating providers of NHS services.
Since the proposals were first mooted the Optical Confederation has made the case for an exemption on the grounds that optics is already regulated through NHS contracts, the GOC codes of conduct and as part of normal business regulation. Moreover, unlike most NHS providers, the optical sector is a highly competitive and transparent market where patients already have wide and genuine choice. This has involved responding to sixteen separate Monitor consultations since 2011 and actively engaging with the Department of Health and colleagues across primary care to argue the optical sector’s position.
The Optical Confederation welcomes the fact that this effort and common sense has won through in the publication of Department of Health guidance providing community opticians with an exemption from the license regime.
The regulatory framework associated with Monitor’s licensing requirements is very complex and would have bought a costly and unnecessary secondary layer of regulation to the optical sector therefore diverting resources away from the front-line and increasing costs for patients.
The decision to exempt optics – as well as other primary care contractors – is welcome news for patients and consistent with broad health policy aims of improving access to primary care, preventing avoidable visual impairment and enabling people to remain well and independent in the community. It was on the same basis that the Optical Confederation worked with decision-makers to exempt optical practices from Care Quality Commission (CQC) registration.
Monitor will review licence exemptions in 2016/17 and the Optical Confederation will continue to work with all stakeholders to avoid unnecessary and duplicatory regulation.
Mark Nevin, speaking on behalf of the Optical Confederation, said: “We welcome this outcome and sensible decision. The Department of Health has recognised that there is little or no value including community opticians in Monitor’s remit. Such a move would have been disproportionate and would have created more work for all sides without any benefit to patients or the public.”