The General Optical Council (GOC) has recently launched a consultation to gather opinions on proposed changes to its policy on the verification of contact lens specifications during sales and the definition of aftercare. This move comes in response to the evolving landscape of contact lens prescription and supply, as well as the need to streamline processes for the benefit of both professionals and patients.
The Proposed Changes
One significant proposal from the GOC is the decision not to enforce the requirement to verify a copy of a contact lens specification when a sale of prescription contact lenses is made under the general direction of a GOC registrant or registered medical practitioner. This change was formulated following the GOC’s call for evidence on the Opticians Act 1989 in 2022.
Steve Brooker, the GOC’s director of regulatory strategy, emphasized that this decision was influenced by the increasing prevalence of electronic copies of contact lens specifications. Many such specifications are now provided as scans of original documents, a practice that the GOC believes should be accepted. Additionally, verifying a specification with the exact person who signed it can sometimes be challenging and inefficient, leading to increased costs for patients.
The Opticians Act 1989 (section 27) previously stipulated that to supply prescription contact lenses, an in-date copy of the contact lens specification must be provided, and if the original copy could not be provided, the supplier had to verify the specification copy with the original provider. The GOC’s draft statement, however, suggests that there is insufficient evidence of harm to the public or a broader public interest in prosecuting sellers who do not verify a copy of an in-date contact lens specification, provided that the copy is clear, error-free, and unaltered. Therefore, this requirement will not be enforced, except in cases where neither the original nor a copy of the original specification is provided.
Another essential aspect of the proposed changes is the definition of aftercare following the sale of prescription contact lenses under general direction. Section 27 of the Opticians Act did not specify how sellers should arrange for buyers to receive aftercare. The GOC’s draft statement now clarifies that aftercare should encompass the following:
- Instructions and information on inserting, wearing, and removing contact lenses.
- Guidance on cleaning and storing contact lenses.
- Identification of signs or symptoms that patients should watch out for.
- Contact details in case of problems with the lenses.
- The importance of regular contact lens check-ups.
- These elements are designed to ensure that patients receive comprehensive information and support regarding the proper care and use of their contact lenses.
Throughout the process of developing these changes, the GOC actively sought input from stakeholders to identify and address any unintended consequences or risks that could not be mitigated. Carolyn Ruston, policy director at the Association of Optometrists, welcomed this consultative approach, noting that the AOP had expressed similar feedback during the GOC’s broader call for evidence on the Opticians Act in 2022. Additionally, the Federation of Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians committed to analyzing and responding to the consultation on behalf of its members.
The GOC’s proposed changes to the policy on verification of contact lens specifications and the definition of aftercare represent a step towards modernizing and streamlining the contact lens supply process. By acknowledging the increasing use of electronic copies of specifications and providing clear guidelines for aftercare, these changes aim to benefit both professionals and patients. As the consultation period runs until October 24, 2023, it is essential for stakeholders and industry experts to actively engage in the process to ensure that the final policies align with the best interests of all parties involved in the world of contact lenses.