New ‘Speaking up’ guidance for GOC registrants

On 28 October 2021, the General Optical Council (GOC) launched new ‘Speaking up’ guidance, previously known as ‘Raising concerns with the GOC (whistleblowing) policy.’ The guidance is aimed at helping both individual and business registrants identify where they need to consider the professional requirement to speak up when a patient or public safety may be at risk. It should be read alongside the GOC Standards for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians, Optical Businesses and Optical Students. It should also be considered in conjunction with the GOC’s professional duty of candour. The guidance is split into two parts, with Part 1 applying to individuals and Part 2 to business registrants.

‘Speaking up’ is used as an umbrella term and is intended to cover all concerns about patient/public safety or propriety. It is thus wider than the duty of candour as it includes anything that gets in the way of providing patient care and not just being open and honest when something has gone wrong. It is also broader than the concept of raising concerns as outlined in the GOC standards.

In a nutshell, the guidance states as follows:

Guidance for individuals

  1. When to speak up:
    1. Do you believe that the patient/public safety is or may be at risk or do you have propriety concerns such as observing something that is seriously wrong or not in accordance with accepted standards?
    1. If patients/the public are at risk of death or serious harm, you must speak up without delay. Risks are, however, not limited to physical harm.
    1. Is what you are concerned about within your control to resolve? If it is, you should still share the issue with colleagues. If it is not, you must speak up about it.
    1. You do not need proof in order to speak up. An honest and reasonable belief in what you are speaking about will suffice.
  2. How to speak up:
    1. Speak up to the person or organisation with authority to take action.
    1. At local level, this may be a colleague, your line manager, senior management or another organisation.
    1. If the matter cannot be resolved locally or it is so serious as to merit immediate referral, this should be to a speaking up guardian within your organisation, local optical committee, employer or a prescribed person/organisation (including the GOC).
    1. Always document your concerns and any actions taken to resolve them.
  3. After speaking up: If the person you are speaking up to does not put matters right or they attempt to but patient/public safety is still at risk, you should speak up to a prescribed organisation.

Guidance for businesses

  1. Policies and processes: Business registrants are expected to have appropriate policies about speaking up which may want to follow the a five-step model of a good speaking up process – (i) have an appropriate and clear process for speaking up and acting on concerns; (ii) break down barriers to speaking up; (iii) normalise the process of speaking up; (iv) be receptive to feedback; and (v) reflect on the concerns raised to prevent recurrence.
  2. Maintaining and promoting awareness: 
    1. Everyone, regardless of whether they are permanent or contracted staff, should be provided with information on how to speak up. There should be periodic reminders of how to speak up.
    1. Staff should be equipped with appropriate skills and support to receive and act on concerns.
  3. If someone speaks up about their concerns to you:
    1. Concerns must be taken seriously and not dismissed out of hand.
    1. Matters should be put right where possible and where not, escalated to the appropriate person/organisation.
    1. If concerns cannot be put right sufficiently quickly to avoid patient/public harm, consideration should be given to managing the risk by ceasing trading in the affected area.
    1. Ensure that the individual is not victimised or discriminated against as a result.

Comment

GOC registrants should be mindful of the fact that the speaking up guidance places a greater onus on them than the GOC standards and professional duty of candour to identify and address patient and public safety issues. Some may be naturally concerned about the repercussions of speaking up, including the impact that this may have on their careers and working relationships. However, the consequences of not speaking up where required to do so could have serious implications for the registrant in the form of a GOC or other investigation. Business registrants will need to ensure that their policies are up to date and that staff are appropriately trained in this area. All registrants are encouraged to engage in Continuing Education and Training to familiarise themselves with the new guidance.

If in doubt about how the guidance ought to be applied, legal advice or assistance from professional indemnity/insurance providers should be sought.


Rosie Shapiro, Partner, BLM
rosie.shapiro@blmlaw.com

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