A General Optical Council fitness to practise panel has retired to deliberate a verdict in a misconduct case against Boots Opticians Professional Services.

The committee alleged the multiple failed to ensure protected disclosures relating to clinical concerns raised by a member of staff were managed appropriately. In the allegations, Boots Opticians stood accused of failing to identify the concerns as protected disclosures and then disclosing the identity of the whistleblower to the subject of the disclosures.

The fitness to practise panel heard evidence from Mr A, an optometrist who worked at Boots Opticians practices in Truro and St Austell.

Mr A, who was visibly upset at points during his evidence, told the panel he raised concerns over sight tests performed by a colleague in October 2014. He claimed the records related to an elderly patient showing symptoms of flashing lights, visual field loss and cobweb patterns. According to Mr A, this was a ‘bread and butter’ case for an optometrist and the patient should have been referred for emergency checks.

After discovering the instance of alleged poor practice, Mr A then pulled more records relating to his colleague’s sight tests and said he found more inconsistencies. These were raised with another practice colleague then referred to Boots senior management.

Boots Opticians area manager Philippa Jones, who investigated Mr A’s complaints, was next to give evidence. She believed the concerns stemmed from frustration over an audit to be performed on Mr A.

‘Mr A didn’t think it was right that his records were being audited by someone who he considered not be up to the task,’ she said.

Jones told the panel she considered the matter to be a ‘low-level grievance’ and indicated she would see them both separately to work through the issue. It was at this point that Jones told Mr A that she would disclose his identity as part of an effort to resolve an issue between the two.

Mr A explained how he had raised the matter with former Boots Opticians professional services officer Gordon Carson, who gave evidence at the hearing. During this evidence, Carson said he considered Mr A’s concerns as ‘seeking an opinion’ rather than a formal whistleblowing matter as there was no formal language within the emails from Mr A. Carson also told the committee that he recommended that the Truro practice be placed in ‘special measures’ as a result of repeat failings in delegated functions. However, this was not formally put in place. Carson admitted that upon reflection, he would have approached the matter differently and treated the disclosures as protected.