Call for evidence on the Opticians Act and consultation on associated GOC policies

Closed 18 Jul 2022

Opened 28 Mar 2022


Please refer to the document at the bottom of this page in the 'related' section for the full call for evidence and consultation document and questions. To respond to the survey, scroll down the page and click on 'online survey'. You do not have to answer all the questions.

What we’re doing

This call for evidence seeks views, information and factual evidence on the need for change to the Opticians Act 1989 (‘the Act’) (the legislation that underpins the regulatory work of the GOC, as well as defining some aspects of optometry and dispensing optics practice). At the same time we are also seeking views through a consultation on associated GOC policies.  

The information and evidence we collect from this call for evidence will inform the development of any business case for future change to the Act, as well as inform whether we should consider making more immediate changes to our associated policies. We are also seeking views on our objectives for legislative reform.

The call for evidence and consultation contains questions and requests for information, which may include factual evidence, insight or evidence of impact (positive or negative) and/or evidence of experience. We are very much focussed on engaging stakeholders and gaining evidence for what needs to change in the future to ensure that regulation remains relevant and fit for the future. However, there are some actions that we consider ought to be undertaken sooner, so as well as asking for evidence of the need for future change, we are also asking for your views and evidence of impact on our proposals for immediate change in some areas.

This document contains two aspects:

  • a call for evidence which seeks views, information and factual evidence on the impact (including evidence of risks and impact to the public) and stakeholders’ experience of the Act to help us to decide whether the Act and associated GOC policies should remain as they are or whether there is any evidence to support a case for change. There will need to be strong evidence to argue for change and stakeholders may wish to give examples of what works in other fields, as well as evidence from within the optical sector. We recognise that there may be gaps in evidence and we would be grateful to stakeholders for drawing these to our attention; and
  • a consultation which will concentrate on an area where we have already started to develop our policy thinking and are interested in stakeholders’ views and evidence of impact on how to move forward, particularly where stakeholders have already told us that there is a need to take action now.

This call for evidence and consultation is separate to the Regulating healthcare professionals, protecting the public consultation and related programme of work currently being carried out by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to ensure consistency between the powers that all healthcare regulators have to deliver their regulatory functions of registration, education, fitness to practise, standards and the overall governance and operating framework of the regulator.

We are focussing this call for evidence and consultation on the aspects of the Act that are unique to the GOC or the practice of optometry and dispensing optics, as well as associated GOC policies and/or guidance. The call for evidence and consultation is centred on two parts of the Act: part II (sections 7, 8A and 9) and part IV (sections 24-30A). Part II of the Act outlines how individuals and businesses are registered by the GOC. Part IV outlines the regulation of the practice of optometry and dispensing optics.

For more information about the GOC and our legislation, please see our website.

Why we’re doing this now

The original Opticians Act was published in 1958. This was replaced by the Opticians Act 1989, but still retained large sections of the 1958 Act. There have been various amendments since 1989 such as introducing Continuing Professional Development (CPD). During this time, the sector has evolved significantly with the roles of optometrists and dispensing opticians developing to realise their full professional capability as well as occupying different roles, including enhanced clinical roles, across each nation of the UK. Technological developments including remote care have also impacted on the way optical services are delivered to patients. We are keen to gather evidence and insight to better understand how our regulatory activity needs to develop to match advances in technology, service delivery and professional capability, and associated risks to patient care and public benefit. 

In addition, the Act contains other areas that may require reform, such as protecting both function (i.e. activities such as sight testing) and professional title. We need to ensure the Act is fit for purpose and does not create unnecessary restrictions that limit the ability of registrants to fully utilise their professional capability to the benefit of patients. We are also keen to understand where the limit of such changes should be and their impact, so as to not unnecessarily restrict competition in the market. These factors must be balanced against the need to maintain patient care, safety and public benefit.

We plan to use the opportunity offered by the DHSC in their review of certain aspects of the Act to propose, on the basis of the evidence and insight gathered through this call for evidence, whether further changes are required to the aspects of the Act that apply only to the optical sector (such as sight testing, fitting of contact lenses, sale and supply of optical appliances, and business regulation).

What will happen next

The public call for evidence and consultation will be open for 16 weeks.

This is the first step in a programme of work to ensure that our legislation and associated policies are fit for the future. We will analyse the responses received and consider the need and strength of the case for change and/or whether further research and/or analysis of impact is required. If, as a result of the call for evidence and/or the consultation, we consider changes to legislation or GOC policy are necessary and can be evidenced, we will carry out further public and targeted stakeholder consultation activities on our proposals.

Although we are leading engagement with stakeholders and the sector through this call for evidence, responsibility for agreeing changes to the Act does not rest with us but with Parliament, and the pace and outcome of any changes sought will be determined by other stakeholders such as DHSC, devolved administrations and/or NHS commissioners.