Recently the optical mailbases have been full of irate and desperate optometrists, mostly contractors I have to say, who have been left well and truly in the lurch by the Department of Health (DH). This, of course, will not come as a surprise to anyone who has had dealings with the DH in the past. The cause for this latest debacle is the non-payment of GOS fees by the latest organisation to team with the department, namely Capita. There is a mantra that says that if you are totally incompetent but want to appear competent make sure you employ, or choose to work with, someone even more incompetent than yourself. This would appear to hold very true in this case.

To summarise, it would seem that contractors are not being paid on time, some are being paid by direct debit and then not always all that is due to them. Some are being paid partly by direct debit and partly by cheque. Some are just not being paid at all. Then there is the farce over no GOS forms being available. Top that off finally with the latest news that it would appear LOCs are not receiving their statutory levy payments from Capita and you have pretty much the perfect example of how not to run a business.

That this state of affairs has existed for quite a number of months now, with little or no sign of resolution, turns utter incompetence into scandal. The government has statutory laws in place stating time limits on when payments are due to contractors with government contracts. It would seem that this government is quite happy to “break the law” when it suits them. Now that the Secretary of State has decided not to run for leader of his party and ultimately Prime Minister maybe he would like to set about managing the NHS properly. I feel we may have had a narrow escape. Heaven help us all if someone who cannot run the NHS lawfully and properly had been left in charge of the whole country.

Of course the other side of this matter is the almost total silence from our representative bodies. I have seen a couple of emails about the situation and I did see one email that said that at least one of the bodies had been talking to Capita for many months now. To a contractor who has not been paid what is due to them the fact that no progress has been made on this debacle for some months now should truly cause alarm bells to ring.

Why has there been so little news of this publicly? This scandal should have been making daily headlines within the optical press and we members of these bodies, who pay a great deal of money each year to be served by these bodies, should be kept abreast of things as a matter of supreme priority. Had this happened to any other profession within the NHS there would, I have no doubt, have been banner headlines in national newspapers and in the medical publications such as Health Service Journal and Pulse. These publications probably do not even know of the situation.

Why oh why do we have to keep everything so secret in this profession? No doubt someone will say that to aggravate Capita and the DH would mean they would not be willing to work with us and would mean a resolution would take longer. That is, in my opinion, utter rubbish. Has ‘working with them’ produced any solution to date? Of course it hasn’t. As usual the DH are probably saying to themselves, don’t worry it’s only those optometrists again. Shout ‘boo’ at them and they will run away. Our professional bodies have a duty to highlight this disgrace at every opportunity. To date they have not and I would like to know why.

If nothing else the recent referendum and various political votes have shown that the people of this country are utterly fed up with elected representatives in London Offices doing just what they want to do and ignoring the voter in the street. To their cost they have found that modern life has changed because people are so fed up.

This is probably the first time in recent history that individual practitioners have had their livelihood threatened by the total incompetence of the DH and those they choose to contract their services out to. It is way past time our professional bodies showed some true fighting spirit and fought for those practitioners in a highly public way.