The GOC is responsible for preventing and enforcing the forms of practice banned under the Opticians Act 1989. These include:
- unlawfully conducting sight tests;
- unlawfully fitting and supplying spectacles and contact lenses (both prescription and 'zero-powered'); and
- the misuse of protected titles, such as optometrist, ophthalmic optician and dispensing optician.
The GOC acknowledges that it has limited resources and that contact lenses are increasingly sold online and supplied by companies based overseas in a manner that does not comply with UK law. Previously, the GOC enforced its legislation primarily by responding to complaints but it is now proposing a more active approach which will involve:
- working with other enforcement bodies, such as local trading standards bodies and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA);
- developing guidance for contact lens users on the safe purchase of lenses and appropriate after-care, to be published online and potentially included with lenses; and
- a voluntary code of practice for online contact lens suppliers alongside a public awareness campaign for the scheme as well as 'mystery shoppers' purchasing from suppliers that sign up to the code, to ensure that the code is adhered to.
If successful, this strategy would see decreased instances of illegal practice (such as the unlawful supply of contact lenses) as a result of raised awareness, as well as the enforcement and prosecution of those who continue to offend. In particular, the GOC notes that its own enforcement and investigation powers are limited and in any event, as instances of illegal practice are summary offences, the maximum fine is £5,000 per offence which is why the GOC is keen to work with other enforcement agencies and consider wider offences.
The consultation is open until 3 June 2014. The full consultation document can be found here.