The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) has responded to a petition that called for the General Optical Council (GOC) to be investigated for conflicts of interest. As reported in Optician [26.06.20], the petition stated that there had been ‘numerous concerns from members of the optical industry that the GOC is not fit for purpose and has a major conflict of interest.’ Further points raised in the petition included concern at the regulator’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and lack of clarity in its messaging to registrants.

Following a PSA promise to investigate the concerns raised in the petition, the authority has now stated that it ‘has seen no evidence of undue influence by specific individuals or business registrants and did not consider that there were grounds to carry out a special investigation.’

Serious concerns

In its update, the PSA explained that it would only consider undertaking a special review if it had ‘serious concerns about the performance of a regulator.’ However, based on evidence obtained from the GOC on its coronavirus guidance, the PSA felt that ‘the GOC consulted with an appropriate range of stakeholder organisations,’ and that ‘the guidance itself does not appear to place any group of registrants at an advantage compared to others.’

The PSA noted the GOC’s joint statement with the Association of Independent Optometrists (AIO) that recognised the confusion its guidance had caused: ‘We note that the GOC has accepted… that its guidance could been clearer.’

Commenting on its legal jurisdiction, the standards authority said: ‘We understand that the GOC has received complaints in respect of alleged breaches of the guidance, which it is considering through its fitness to practise process. We are precluded by law from intervening in ongoing fitness to practise cases, though we can review the handling of closed cases as part of our performance review.’

The PSA’s statement roundly rejects the petition’s call for a special investigation into the GOC: ‘We therefore do not consider that there is evidence which raises serious concerns about the performance of the GOC such that we should consider undertaking a special investigation into the alleged conflicts of interest or other matters raised. We will continue to monitor and report on the GOC’s performance through our annual performance reviews.’

The PSA highlighted that its next performance review for the GOC would begin in October 2020 and would cover the period from October 2019 to September 2020. GOC registrants were invited to share their experiences of the regulator during this time period with the PSA, and can do so on the PSA’s website.

FODO Reaction

In its weekly roundup of news in the optical sector, the Federation of Dispensing Opticians (FODO) addressed the PSA’s decision to not carry out a special investigation. FODO warned its members to be wary of their online conduct, saying: ‘Although it is right to raise concerns where necessary, it is also essential for members of the profession to keep in mind GOC standard 17.2, about ensuring “conduct in the online environment, particularly in relation to social media, whether or not connected to your professional practice, does not damage public confidence in you or your profession.”’

Referencing the petition itself, FODO continued: ‘It is important to raise legitimate concerns and to do so in a professional way, which includes basic due diligence such as checking whether a petition is run by an anonymous source and on a credible platform – some online petitions can be changed after you have signed them. For example, you can inform the PSA directly about any concerns by using the official feedback form.’