- 1. What does the GOC mean by “Fitness to Practise“?
- 2. What type of GOC Fitness to Practise concerns will the GOC Investigate?
- 3. How can we help with a GOC Fitness to Practise Investigation?
- 4. What mitigation will the GOC take into consideration?
- 5. What sanctions are available to the GOC’s Fitness to Practise Committee?
- 6. GOC Fitness to Practise Case Studies
- 7. Ask another question
- Contact us for GOC help
- Further Reading
1. What does the GOC mean by “Fitness to Practise“?
The GOC regulates optometrists and dispensing opticians, including trainees. The GOC defines fitness to practise as a demonstration of safe and competent practice. This includes maintaining proper and effective relationships with patients and colleagues. As with all regulators, the GOC expects their registrants to maintain the public’s confidence in the profession.
The GOC publish their code of conduct, referred to as ‘The Standards of Practice for optometrists and dispensing opticians.’ The code can be found here.
The code sets out the standards of behaviour and performance expected of registered optometrists and dispensing opticians.
2. What type of GOC Fitness to Practise concerns will the GOC Investigate?
The GOC will investigate the following types of fitness to practise allegations, although this list is by no means exhaustive:
- A criminal conviction/caution;
- General misconduct;
- Deficient professional performance;
- Not having the necessary knowledge of English;
- Allegations of dishonesty, including altering patient records, defrauding the NHS, false information on a CV;
- Substance misuse.
3. How can we help with a GOC Fitness to Practise Investigation?
Our GOC fitness to practise lawyers have a proven track record in representing optometrists and dispensing opticians. We know how to prepare persuasive written representations to the GOC and what the GOC’s Case Examiners are likely to be looking for. It is essential that a careful strategic decision is made regarding when to provide written representations, how much detail to go into and to strike the appropriate tone.
At hearings before the GOC’s Fitness to Practise Committee, when an optometrist or dispensing optician is denying allegations, we can defend our clients robustly with expert cross-examination of the GOC’s witnesses. Where allegations are accepted, we know how to skillfully mitigate them.
4. What mitigation will the GOC take into consideration?
When there is an acceptance that something has gone wrong, we will seek to mitigate, to ensure that the optometrist or dispensing optician gets the most lenient outcome from the fitness to practise proceedings. The GOC will take into consideration a variety of factors including:
- The optometrist’s good character and history;
- The time lapse since the incident;
- Insight shown;
- If the incident was a one off;
- Remediation evidence, such as further training or coaching, demonstrating a low risk of repetition;
- Lack of harm to patients;
- Full engagement with the regulatory process;
- Early admissions.
Preparation that can assist to demonstrate mitigation in GOC fitness to practise hearings can include:
- Testimonials – To have the most weight, the authors will need to demonstrate that they are fully aware of the allegations faced and have known the registrant for a long time, ideally in a professional capacity.
- Self-reflective statements to demonstrate insight;
- Continued Education and Training (CET) – to demonstrate that the optometrist has maintained their skills and knowledge to an appropriate level;
- A personal development plan to address any shortcomings.
5. What sanctions are available to the GOC’s Fitness to Practise Committee?
The GOC’s Fitness to Practise Committee should make sanction decisions that are proportionate, balancing the interests of the registrant and the public, taking into consideration the seriousness of the allegations and the specific aggravating and mitigating factors.
If the GOC’s Fitness to Practise Committee finds the registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired, the sanction options available are:
- Take no further action;
- A financial penalty (up to £50,000, taking into consideration the registrant’s ability to pay);
- Conditions for up to 3 years;
- Suspension for up to 12 months;
6. GOC Fitness to Practise Case Studies
Below is a very brief sample of the types of GOC fitness to practise cases where we have legally represented optometrists and dispensing opticians before the GOC:
Represented an optometrist who had worked when their immigration status changed, rendering them no longer entitled to work in the UK and dishonestly entered an incorrect GOC number on prescriptions. We successfully mitigated and avoided an erasure and the optometrist was suspended for 6 months;
Represented a student optometrist facing allegations that they had worked without supervision and made false declarations on an application form to a college, which was misleading and dishonest. The Panel found that their fitness to practise was not impaired and issued a warning.
7. Ask another question
Do you have another question relating to GOC fitness to practise that hasn’t been covered in our guide? Feel free to ask Richard Nelson LLP’s GOC fitness to practise solicitors and we’ll endeavour to get back in touch with you as soon as possible.
Contact us for GOC help
When an optometrist is facing a GOC fitness to practise investigation, it is best to obtain legal advice and representation as early as possible. It may be possible for us to persuade the GOC to take no further action. However if this is not possible to achieve in your situation, we will instead prepare the foundations for a robust defence to the allegations faced, or where necessary, we will present powerful mitigation.
If you are facing a GOC fitness to practise investigation, please contact our GOC Lawyers today for a free confidential telephone consultation.