Covid-19 and the Scheme for Registration

26 March 2020: An updated announcement regarding COVID-19 and the Scheme for Registration

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Updates and announcements

26 March 2020: Scheme for Registration update

We want assure trainees, supervisors and employers that we are developing proposals to modify the Scheme for Registration requirements in these exceptional circumstances. While work has begun on these, it will take some time to develop full proposals and have them signed-off by the GOC. 

We are working to put in place arrangements that recognise that pre-registration trainees are unlikely to be employed in supervised practice for a period of time, and therefore not able to meet the standard Scheme requirements. We are also exploring what we can do differently, having had to suspend work-based assessment visits on the Scheme. 

We are exploring modifications we can make and how competencies can be assessed differently, all while upholding the rigour of the Scheme and ensuring patient safety. We are involving key stakeholders in this work, and will test our plans with different parties, including employers and the GOC. We recognise we need to build confidence in any potential modifications, so that they are both credible and practical.

We are developing a process for approving extensions to allotted time on the Scheme for trainees whose placements and progress are affected by COVID-19. This will aim to avoid individual trainees needing to apply separately for extensions (as is the case under standard Scheme regulations).

We are also exploring how we can work with employers to support trainees’ learning and development while their supervised practice is suspended. 

We will keep you updated with all Scheme for Registration developments. 

We want assure trainees, supervisors and employers that we are developing proposals to modify the Scheme for Registration requirements in these exceptional circumstances. While work has begun on these, it will take some time to develop full proposals and have them signed-off by the GOC. 

We are working to put in place arrangements that recognise that pre-registration trainees are unlikely to be employed in supervised practice for a period of time, and therefore not able to meet the standard Scheme requirements. We are also exploring what we can do differently, having had to suspend work-based assessment visits on the Scheme. 

We are exploring modifications we can make and how competencies can be assessed differently, all while upholding the rigour of the Scheme and ensuring patient safety. We are involving key stakeholders in this work, and will test our plans with different parties, including employers and the GOC. We recognise we need to build confidence in any potential modifications, so that they are both credible and practical.

We are developing a process for approving extensions to allotted time on the Scheme for trainees whose placements and progress are affected by COVID-19. This will aim to avoid individual trainees needing to apply separately for extensions (as is the case under standard Scheme regulations).

We are also exploring how we can work with employers to support trainees’ learning and development while their supervised practice is suspended. 

We will keep you updated with all Scheme for Registration developments. 

The latest guidance and information is available on our COVID-19 page and on our social media channels.

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Introduction 

1.    We recognise we are in unprecedented times. We are concerned to provide supportive advice to trainees, supervisors and assessors. We understand that this is a very difficult and fast-changing situation for everyone. 

2.    We encourage all trainees, supervisors and assessors to follow NHS and College advice here.

3.    The College’s initial plans for assessment arrangements within the Scheme for Registration arrangements, in the current context, are set out below. These take account of government advice issued on 16th March 2020. 

4.    We have produced some initial FAQs to respond to queries. These are available below. 

Cancellation of stage 1 and stage 2 assessment visits

5.    In the context of latest government advice, all stage 1 and stage 2 assessment visits within the Scheme have been cancelled from 18th March. We will keep the need for this measure under regular review, taking account of government advice and requirements.   

6.    We have made this decision so that trainees, supervisors and assessors can follow government and organisational advice on self-isolation and social distancing and respond, as required, to any escalation in how this advice is couched.

Exceptional measures

7.    The College is liaising with the General Optical Council (GOC) on changes that we can make to assessment arrangements within the Scheme in the context of Covid-19, while still meeting GOC requirements of education providers. 

8.    In doing this, our priorities are as follows:

  • To support trainees, supervisors and assessors at this very difficult time
  • To make appropriate adaptations to how trainees can progress through the Scheme and demonstrate fulfilment of Scheme requirements without compromising education and professional standards
  • To minimise disruption and delays to trainees’ progression through the Scheme and their contribution to patient care and service delivery
  • To arrange for collective extensions to allotted time on the Scheme for trainees affected by the exceptional circumstances created by Covid-19.    

9.    We will provide detailed information and guidance on the exceptional arrangements as we develop and finalise these. 

10.    We are liaising with the GOC and the Optometry Schools Council on exceptional arrangements for students/graduates who are due to enrol on the Scheme in 2020/21, given the current disruption to students’ undergraduate studies. We have produced a joint statement with the GOC

11.    We are giving particular consideration to the situation and needs of students enrolled on degree programmes into which the Scheme for Registration is integrated, and of students who enter the Scheme via progression routes other than directly from an optometry undergraduate degree. 

Further information 

12.    We will provide regular updates and specific alerts on significant changes or developments relating to the Scheme. 

13.    If you have specific queries that are not answered by this information or the FAQs, please send them to education.help@college-optometrists.org and one of team will be in touch.

Updated: 19 March 2020

Covid-19 FAQs for Trainees

Below is some more detailed information on Scheme arrangements that responds to questions and queries we have received from trainees and supervisors. We will update these FAQs to respond to new queries and provide updates on arrangements that we put in place. 

Why have you suspended all assessments?

On 16 March 2020, the UK government advised that all unnecessary social contact and non-essential travel should cease, in order to protect the health of the UK population. The College suspended Scheme assessments in order to comply with this advice, and to safeguard the health, welfare and safety of trainees, supervisors, assessors and the public.

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Will I or my practice be charged for cancelled assessments?

No, there will no charges for any visits cancelled because of COVID-19.

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Can I still see patients?

You must follow your practice’s guidance and policies and adhere to government, regulatory and College advice. This advice is collated and regularly updated here.

If your practice is still open and seeing patients, then you may continue to work and see patients under supervision. Any patient refractions, contact lens and dispenses you carry out can count towards the numbers required for the Scheme for Registration. Patient episodes that you use and record during this time may be used for your future work-based assessments on the Scheme, when these resume.

Given the potential decrease in patient appointments and restrictions in store opening times, The College has suspended the minimum 20 hours per week that trainees need to spend in the consulting room.

If one of your registered supervisors is not able to supervise you at this time, you should register a change in supervisor in the usual way via your trainee area on The College website. You may also be supervised by a temporary supervisor for a maximum of 30 days, or 4 consecutive weeks, each calendar year without registering this person.

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Will my time on the Scheme be extended?

We are currently looking at how we can arrange extensions to allotted time on the Scheme (currently 27 months) for all trainees who are affected by the exceptional circumstances created by Covid-19. We will only enact the exceptional arrangements for extensions once we have a full picture of the duration of the suspension to Scheme assessments, to ensure that we apply them fairly and appropriately to all trainees.

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Will I be able to sit the OSCE in July?

The July OSCE is still currently scheduled to go ahead as planned. However, we will need to keep under regular review whether this remains possible. We will need to postpone the sitting if running it would contravene government advice. 

Any trainee who would have been eligible to sit the July OSCE if assessments had not been suspended will be able to sit the exam. We will review and confirm the deadline for sitting the July OSCE once the full extent of the current suspension becomes clearer. We will provide updates to all trainees, supervisors and assessors once we can provide more certainty.

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When will assessments start again and when will I get a new assessment date?

We cannot say at this stage when assessments will resume. The government has suggested that the current advice on limiting social contact may last for ‘weeks or months’. For now, all assessments have been suspended until further notice.

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If assessments start again in May, can I still have the Stage 2 date that I’ve been given?

All assessments at both stage 1 and stage 2 have been cancelled. When it is appropriate for assessments to resume, all outstanding visits will be booked from scratch to be fair to all trainees.

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Do I still need to meet all the Scheme requirements such as the hospital placement and patient numbers?

We know that the NHS is going to be under unprecedented pressure in the coming months as it focuses on acute care. This means that hospital placements for optometry students will almost certainly be cancelled and no new placements will be available for some months. We also accept that patient numbers in community practice are likely to decrease as a result of the latest government advice, and that some groups of patients will not be able to attend appointments. 

The hospital placement and refraction and dispensing numbers are requirements of the Scheme set by the General Optical Council (GOC). The current position is that these requirements need to be met.

The College is liaising with GOC on changes that we can make to progress requirements within the Scheme in order that regulatory requirements are met and education and professional standards are not compromised. We are exploring how and what kinds of adaptations we can make to specific requirements, so that trainees are not unfairly held back in their progress, or patient care, service delivery and workforce supply negatively affected.   

We will update all trainees, supervisors and assessors as key decisions are made and we can advise on the arrangements we are able to put in place.

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Will the College be offering alternative or remote assessments to trainees?

The College is liaising with GOC on changes that we can make to assessment arrangements within the Scheme in order that regulatory requirements are still met and education and professional standards are not compromised. We are currently exploring how we can adapt our approach to assessment to be responsive to the exceptional circumstances created by Covid-19.  

We will update all trainees, supervisors and assessors as key decisions are made and we can advise on the arrangements in place.

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I am a pre- reg optometrist. How will providing essential services only affect me?

When we announced that assessments had stopped, we advised that trainees could continue to see patients. Now, with only essential services being provided, trainees can help with telephone triage to decide whether a patient should be seen.

We are currently liaising with the GOC on changes that we can make to the Scheme for Registration requirements, so that trainees are not unfairly held back in their progress.

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Updated: 19 March 2020

FAQs for trainees sponsored by the College on a Tier 5 visa

Where can I find up-to-date guidance?

UKVI has a webpage for guidance, this is updated regularly.

Specific queries can be posted to the following email address: CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk 

There is also a Coronavirus Immigration Helpline – Tel. 0800 678 1767.

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What should I do if I return to my home country?

If the College is acting as your sponsor for your Tier 5 GAE visa, it is very important you let the College know you are leaving the country. We have a legal responsibility, as your sponsor, to inform UKVI of your whereabouts. 

Please email emily.stevens@college-optometrists.org with any updates.

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Can my Tier 5 GAE visa be extended?

UKVI have not yet released any guidance on whether it will be possible for visas to be extended in the current circumstances. 

We recommend that you check the government website regularly. We will also post updates as we receive them. 

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I recently passed the OSCE and need to apply for a Tier 2 visa. What do I do?

UKVI has stated that, “those whose leave expires between 24 January and 31 May 2020, including those whose leave has already been automatically extended to 31 March 2020, are eligible to apply from the UK to switch to a long-term UK visa”. This includes applications where you would usually need to apply for a visa from your home country, such as a Tier 2.

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I am in the processing of applying for a visa. Has the process changed?

Yes, UKCVAS centres for enrolling biometrics and doing identity checks are currently closed. This means that even if you apply and submit online, UKVI will be unable to complete biometrics for your application to start being processed.  

UKVI has stated that applicants who still have a valid visa will be protected by Section 3C of the Immigration Rules. This means that, until UKVI make a decision on new applications, individuals’ current conditions on their existing visa continue, even if their visas expired during the process.

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Updated: 3 April 2020

 

 

 

 

 

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