Fitness to practise: Promoting standards, protecting the public or punishing practitioners?

How does the FtP system promote standards among optometrists, protect the public and maintain confidence in the profession?

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Introduction

The General Optical Council’s (GOC’s) fitness to practise (FtP) system has often proved a popular topic for authors (Blakeney 2006; D’Ath et al. 2015; Webster 1995), as well as practitioners who have described their first-hand experiences of the system (Kay 2013; McCormick 2013), and GOC officials who have tried to reassure optometrists concerned about the system’s workings (Davis 2015).

Articles have often followed important changes to the FtP system. For example, Blakeney (2006) explained how the GOC’s existing disciplinary system changed to the FtP system in 2005, and D’Ath et al. (2015) reviewed recent data on FtP cases in the light of recent attempts to improve the system’s efficiency. Both papers advised practitioners on how to avoid becoming the subject of an FtP inquiry, but did not examine a point that is perhaps more fundamental: how the FtP system links to the GOC’s statutory functions. This article therefore will not describe the different stages of the FtP process, which have recently been covered elsewhere (D’Ath et al. 2015), but will instead discuss the relationship between the FtP system and the GOC’s statutory obligations, showing the system’s centrality to the GOC’s overall function. It will also show how the FtP system can benefit the public by promoting confidence in the optometric profession, and how it can even benefit optometrists by raising clinical skills and supporting their profession. Summaries of recent FtP cases are available from the GOC website (www.optical.org) and will be used to illustrate some of the points made in this article.

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