1.1 We are the regulator for the optical professions in the UK. As at 31 March 2015 we have 29,162 optometrists, dispensing opticians, student opticians and optical businesses. Our statutory role is to protect and promote the health and safety of members of the public by promoting high standards of professional education, conduct and performance among optometrists and dispensing opticians, and those training to be optometrists and dispensing opticians.
1.2 We are committed to protecting the public, maintaining high ethical standards and taking all concerns raised with us seriously.
1.3 We recognise that workers are often the first to realise or suspect that there might be something wrong or unsafe where they work or study. This wrongdoing may jeopardise patient safety or be against the public interest. We expect that all optical sector organisations are committed to resolving concerns raised with them in the first instance and that workers are encouraged to talk about their concerns and are listened to.
1.4 Within our Standards for Businesses all registered businesses must ‘provide mechanisms to enable those that work for or are otherwise engaged by the business registration to raise concerns about risks to patients’.
1.5 The GOC is committed to supporting those who raise concerns. It is our responsibility, as a regulator and a prescribed person, to have a system in place for all individuals in the optical sector (workers1) to contact us to raise their concerns. This is often referred to as whistleblowing, which is officially known as making a disclosure in the public interest. Such disclosures are protected2 under whistleblowing legislation.
1.6 Within our Standards of Practice for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians and our Standards for Students, all registrants have a duty to promptly raise concerns where they believe that patient safety or care is being compromised by the practice of colleagues, or training, systems, policies and procedures of the organisations in which they work or study. They are also required to encourage and support a culture in which employees can raise concerns openly and safely.
1.7 The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) gives legal protection to workers against detrimental treatment or dismissal as a result of disclosing information which is in the public interest. The Act offers a right to redress in the event of victimisation if workers raise concerns under the legislation within employee tribunals.
1 Workers – includes optical sector employees, registrants (including self-employed locums), students/trainees and agency workers. You do not have to be a GOC registrant to be a ‘worker’ in the optical sector.
2 A ‘protected disclosure’ is the legal term for whistleblowing which brings about the protection of the PIDA against victimisation. This protection is separate from the remit of the GOC.