The GOC’s current system of business registration is set to change to a system based on restricted functions rather than protected titles. This will mean a level playing field, with all businesses being regulated in a proportionate and consistent way.
The proposals are subject to a change in legislation and are unlikely to be introduced before 2016/17. The GOC will now inform the UK Law Commissions and the Department of Health of its decision as they consider changes to the legislation underpinning all of the UK healthcare regulators’ powers.
The proposed changes would mean that rather than a business’ name dictating whether it has to be GOC-registered, all businesses carrying out restricted functions would be required to register. Activities falling into this category include sight testing, contact lens fitting, supply of contact lenses and spectacle sales to the under 16s and registered blind or partially-sighted people. Council also decided to introduce a revised Code of Conduct for business registrants that is more aligned with the risks that can arise from business practices.
Samantha Peters, GOC chief executive and registrar, said: “These proposals will lead to a fairer and more consistent system of business regulation. By regulating businesses based on their functions rather than their name we can enhance public protection and give people confidence that optical businesses carrying out restricted activities are meeting our standards.”
The GOC recently consulted on potential changes to how optical students are regulated. After carefully considering the feedback received, Council decided to conduct more research into the potential impact and carry out further discussions before producing concrete proposals. In particular the GOC will explore whether students in their pre-registration period should continue to be registered. Council will make a final decision on student regulation at a future meeting.
Alistair Bridge, GOC director of policy and communications, said: “The proposals being considered would have a significant impact on optical education and training and it is important that we get this right. We are therefore allowing more time to explore issues raised in our consultation and to continue discussions with stakeholders.”
GOC sets fee for 2014/15 after three years of real-terms reductions
The General Optical Council (GOC) has set its registration fee for 2014/15 at £290 to ensure that it will continue to do an effective job of protecting and promoting the health and safety of the public. The £30 increase follows three years of real-terms reductions in the fee. Over that period the fee for optometrists fell by 27.5 per cent in real terms and the fee for dispensing opticians by 16 per cent.
GOC chair Gareth Hadley said, “We’ve done our utmost to keep fees down during these tough economic times for registrants and they remain lower in real terms than they were three years ago. However, our costs have naturally increased over that period and we could not fulfil our role effectively if we were to freeze our fee for another year.
“We would have had to increase the fee just to meet our existing costs; however, we also face new demands and expectations.
“We are ensuring a proactive approach to raising standards across the profession and meeting the needs of patients and the public. We will review our standards to ensure they reflect good practice and changes in optical care and this will require a sound evidence base. This focus on standards is very much in line with the findings of the Francis Inquiry.
“Like some of our fellow healthcare regulators, we have seen an increase in the volume and complexity of fitness to practise cases in recent years. Against this backdrop we need to work even harder to speed up the fitness to practise process in the interests of patients and registrants alike; this requires additional resources.
“We never like to see registrants enter the fitness to practise process but we must be able to take timely and effective action when a small minority place patients at risk or undermine confidence in the profession.
“It is vital that we have a thorough understanding of the public’s perspective and the changes in how optical care is being delivered in the four nations of the UK. A stronger programme of research and stakeholder engagement will ensure we keep pace with patient expectations and developments in the profession.
“We are also modernising our IT infrastructure so we can provide a good service for both registrants and the public.
“Next year’s fee increase is therefore essential if we are to continue to be an effective regulator acting in patients’ best interests.”
The fee for student registrants will increase from £20 to £25. This is the first increase since the GOC introduced student registration in 2005. The low income fee, for fully-qualified registrants earning under £12,000 per year, will increase from £160 to £190. The fee for bodies corporate will increase from £260 to £290.
Council approved new policies on freedom of information and data protection as part of its ongoing drive to improve information governance. Council also approved new guidance on Fitness to Practise Rule 16, on which it consulted earlier this year. The new policies are on the GOC website – click here.
Council formally congratulated member Liam Kite, who won the Lecturer Award 2013 at the annual AOP Awards.
Next meeting – Wednesday 12 February 2014 in London. Time and venue to be confirmed at a later date.