Petition for the General Optical Council to be investigated for conflict of interest

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The General Optical Council is the regulatory body for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians in the UK. Their role, as they say, is to protect the public and uphold standards within the profession.

Recently, there have been numerous concerns from members of the optical industry that the GOC is not fit for purpose and has a major conflict of interest.

When the COVID 19 lockdown came in to force in March the GOC released a statement calling for all routine eye care to be suspended. Many companies followed this guidance and stopped providing routine sight tests and only opened for emergency/essential care. Some practices closed their doors completely. 

Recently a video has gone viral, showing a Specsavers director boasting about how his store is keeping busy and stealing patients from competitors during the lockdown. Many people within the industry found this behaviour abhorrent and complained to the GOC, saying this was against their guidance.

Within the last few days, the GOC have released another statement, claiming that Opticians were always exempt from closing, and that private routine eye care could indeed have been provided during the lockdown. This goes against the guidance set out by the College of Optometrists.

For many people, it is clearly more than a coincidence that the GOC have done a u-turn and changed their stance so soon after the video of the Specsavers director gained significant attention. The fact that the GOC, as a regulator, also has Specsavers directors on it's board is a clear conflict of interests and needs investigating. It is a disgrace that so many businesses have followed the initial rules set out by the GOC which has in turn hit them financially, whilst at the same time some Specsavers stores appear to be doing as they please. GOC registrants are expected to display "duty of candour" when things go wrong. We feel this is something severely lacking in the GOC, as proved in this instance.

Additionally, there are concerns that the GOC has failed time and time again in taking action against companies who put patient safety at risk by overbooking clinics, reducing testing times and putting optometrists under severe pressure. They have also failed miserably at stopping online retailers selling contact lenses to the public without a valid specification, something which is in direct contravention of the Opticians Act. Despite this, they find the time to suspend registrants for trivial matters such as forgetting to pay for a packet of crisps.

Many Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians feel let down by the complete lack of leadership and clarity from the GOC throughout the pandemic. As well as often conflicting and delayed guidance, many suspect that the large corporate chains were made aware of announcements/guidance before others, hence giving them an advantage by having more time to prepare. Such conflicting advice and lack of clarity during a pandemic is a threat to public safety, something the GOC claims to protect.

There is also widespread concern about plans to introduce an Optometry apprenticeship. Many Optometrists feel such a skilled and specialised role should only be taught in a university/clinical setting, certainly not in a retail setting, where business performance may prioritise clinical learning. Optometrists perform a vital role in saving people's sight and sometimes lives. An apprenticeship, as well as significantly lowering staff costs for businesses, poses significant risks to patient safety. As the regulator, the GOC will decide whether or not to approve it, however many are concerned that corporate power will overrule patient safety and the GOC will give the green light.

We call on the Professional Standards Authority to investigate the GOC as we feel they are not fit for purpose. Their role is to protect the public, not certain businesses. Having Specsavers directors as board members should not be allowed as this is a clear conflict of interest. We feel the GOC is not upholding standards within the profession, often targeting individual practitioners rather than the unsafe working environments they often have to endure. Not only have they let Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians down, but also the general public - the very people they claim to represent.