On 1 April 2016, the General Optical Council (GOC) Code of Conduct for Registrants (the Code) will be replaced by Standards of Practice for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians (the Standards) and Standards for Optical Students.

The GOC states that the purpose of the Standards is to provide clarity on its expectations of Registrants, ensure public protection and consistency with developments across the healthcare sector. The underlying message remains the same; the overriding consideration of all Registrants should be the care, well-being and safety of patients.

The length of the Standards documents speaks volumes. The Code was a 7 page document in contrast to the 2 Standards documents which run to 29 and 33 pages respectively. The Standards set out 19 individual standards that all Registrants must adhere to.  

The Standards include guidance, designed to provide additional clarity to Registrants on each of the standards; there is even a suggestion that further guidance may be provided in the future, if considered necessary. Whilst the Standards are more detailed than the current Code, and thereby provide clarification to Registrants as to the standard of professional performance/conduct expected of them, the accompanying guidance reminds Registrants that they must exercise their professional judgement in order to ensure that they adhere to the Standards.

Some key requirements of the Standards are as follows:

  • The requirements for  obtaining valid consent are clearly set out; the Code only made reference to guidance published by other professional bodies in relation to consent;
  • The requirements for Registrants to conduct appropriate assessments, examinations, treatments and referrals are explicitly set out. None of these matters were expressly referred to in the Code. The Standards also require Registrants to consider a patient’s relevant medical, family and social history  when deciding on appropriate assessments, examinations, treatments and referrals;
  • Registrants must ensure that they undertake appropriate supervision of pre-registration trainees and unregistered colleagues undertaking delegated activities and respond effectively to complaints. Neither of the aforementioned matters were referred to in the Code; and
  • A standard has been introduced to reflect the Duty of Candour and this brings the GOC guidance in line with changes in the guidance issued by many of the major health and social care regulators.
  • The GOC will also update the Code for Business Registrants to emphasise that registered businesses should support their employees in meeting their obligations under the new Standards.  Registrants will also have to complete at least one piece of Continuing Education and Training (CET) on the Standards as part of the 2016-18 annual retention cycle.

The proposed Standards are clear and provide Registrants with much more guidance on what is expected of them during the course of their professional duties. When the consequences for breaches of standards can be serious, including removal from the register; providing greater clarity around the scope and operation of the standards is the appropriate response of a fair and responsible regulator. They can be accessed here.