Boots Opticians Professional Services has had the maximum possible fine of £50,000 imposed on it by the General Optical Council (GOC) following a Fitness to Practise Committee’s concerns for failing to appropriately manage protected disclosures made about clinical concerns within its business.

The ruling follows the so-called ‘whistleblowing case’ which heard extensive evidence at the GOC late last year (News 21.12.18).A statement from the GOC said the FtP Committee found Boots Opticians Professional Services LTD’s fitness to carry on business impaired for: ‘failing to appropriately manage protected disclosures made about clinical concerns within their business.’

Committee chair by Anne Johnstone, said: ‘The Committee would have expected a business registrant which was cognisant of the importance of whistleblowing as an important mechanism for monitoring patient safety to have addressed the deficiencies in its policy and delivered appropriate training to all of its employees much earlier, and with a much greater sense of urgency, than had in fact occurred here.

‘The Business Registrant’s approach to the matter consistently downplayed the significance of the failures that had occurred. This approach had been maintained right up to and during the conduct of this hearing. The committee was not satisfied that the registrant had demonstrated full insight or remediation.

‘Significant public interest disclosures had not been recognised as such and a potential safeguard for patient safety had thereby not operated as it should have done. The Committee regards this case as at the most serious end of the spectrum and has concluded that the maximum financial penalty order should be imposed.’

A statement from Boots said it took its professional and ethical duties around whistleblowing very seriously, and it encouraged an honest, open learning culture. ‘This case relates to a concern that was raised in late 2014 and early 2015, but was not identified as whistleblowing. We have since reviewed and strengthened our whistleblowing policy to ensure that all colleagues are able to identify and handle whistleblowing concerns appropriately. We are launching further e-learning to help build knowledge and awareness across our teams and will be encouraging conversations across Boots Opticians about the policy and how it should be applied, as well as making sure that all colleagues are aware of the various ways they can raise concerns about patient safety within the business and how all leaders investigate and manage such concerns,’ said Claire Slade, Director of Professional Services.

Boots Opticians Professional Services LTD has until 26 March 2019 to appeal the financial penalty.