Covid-19 and the Scheme for Registration

30 April 2020: An updated announcement regarding COVID-19 and the Scheme for Registration

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Updates and announcements

26 May 2020: Update for trainees

We wanted to give another pre-registration trainee update on the Scheme for Registration. We understand how frustrating it is that changes to the Scheme are taking time to confirm.

Our aim in this video is to update you, as far as we can, on what we are doing to ensure that you can complete the Scheme and qualify with the experience and expertise you need to provide safe and effective eye care to your patients. The Scheme was originally designed to be a face-to-face assessment programme. The COVID-19 pandemic means that social distancing will remain necessary for some time, which will have a significant effect on the way optometry is practised in the near future. It means we need to make fundamental changes to how the Scheme is delivered and assessed to be compliant with government social distancing requirements. 

We need to be certain that the changes we make will continue to uphold professional standards and guarantee patient safety in optometry practice. For these reasons, confirming the exact changes to the Scheme will take time. We are working hard, alongside employers, universities and the GOC, to make this happen, and will make sure that you are kept updated with all developments, as soon as we are able.

We are also working in a rapidly changing environment – with new information coming from the government every day, and new planning emerging from the optical sector about how patient care can be safely delivered. So please bear in mind that what I’m about to tell you are plans, and these may need to change again as we continue to work closely with the GOC and employers, and respond to the latest government advice. 

We are doing our best to keep you informed at every stage - but please be aware that this information is not set in stone.  
We have completed a full audit of individual progress on the Scheme in stage one to inform our next steps. We have identified how assessment of the GOC competencies can be modified. This is taking account of current social distancing requirements and the College guidance on adapted practice. 

Stage One
With regards to those trainees currently undertaking stage one of the Scheme, we hope to allow some stage one visits to go ahead remotely next month. We’ll let you know as soon as we have more details.

Stage Two
Many of you have asked about arrangements for stage two and the OSCE. These are more challenging because they involve our assessors and examiners checking that you are safe to perform a range of practical examinations in a clinical setting. We are proposing that stage two assessments are carried out at an examination centre, where we can ensure the safety of trainees and patients, and be satisfied that all competences are achieved. This will be supplemented with an online exam to cover the overarching competencies. 

OSCE
As you know, the July OSCE has been cancelled. We are working on how we can deliver a September OSCE in a socially distanced way, but can’t set out the specifics until we have further guidance from the government on what will or won’t be possible. We are currently looking at emerging guidance from a range of experts on some solutions to running OSCE examinations in a COVID-19 compliant way. 

Next steps
We have now developed revised proposals that will enable you to demonstrate the knowledge and experience you need to examine patients unsupervised on completion of the Scheme. We have submitted these revised proposals to the GOC, and are working with them on the areas where more clarity or detail was requested.

I’m sorry that I can’t be more precise than this at the moment – but I hope that this update has been useful. We are working hard to progress and implement changes as soon as it is practical. 

Please be assured that we will share new information with you as soon as we are satisfied that it is accurate. We are aware there may be rumours about what is going on, but as the provider of the Scheme for Registration, we will let you know when we can confirm the details of how and when you can continue to make progress towards completing the Scheme.

Watch our video: 

 

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26 May 2020: Update for final year students

We wanted to give another student update on the Scheme for Registration. We understand how frustrating it is that changes to the Scheme are taking time to confirm.

The Scheme was originally designed to be a face-to-face assessment programme. The COVID-19 pandemic means that social distancing will remain necessary for some time. This is going to have a significant effect on the way optometry is practised in the near future. This also means fundamental changes need to how the Scheme is delivered and how assessment can safely occur and be compliant with government requirements.

We also need to be certain that the changes will continue to uphold professional standards and ensure patient safety in optometry practice. For these reasons, confirming the exact changes to the Scheme will take time. We are working hard, alongside employers, universities and the GOC, to make this happen and will make sure that you are kept updated with all developments.

We anticipate there will be a delay in some employers taking on a pre-registration student for the 2020-21 Scheme year. We are looking at developing resources for this summer’s university graduates to help with preparation for practice life and fill any potential gaps between graduation and enrolment on the Scheme. We will keep you updated on progress.

We are also aware that there is a common misconception that there are fixed enrolment dates for the Scheme. This is not the case. The Scheme has always been, and will remain, flexible. Pre-registration trainees can enrol on Scheme at any point in the year. We recognise that this flexibility is more important than ever in the current context, both for you as prospective trainees and for employers.

Finally, we have also worked with the Optometry Schools Committee to develop proposals that will enable you to carry over any outstanding GOC Stage one competencies or patient episodes you have not managed to get in the final stages of your university degree. This has been agreed in principle by the GOC. Along with the Optometry Schools Committee, we have now submitted detailed proposals to the GOC on how this will work in practice.

Right now it’s important to focus on the rest on your exams. Please be assured that the College has not forgotten students. We are working hard to ensure that you can enrol and begin the Scheme as soon as it is possible and we will continue to keep you informed at every stage.

Watch our video:

 

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30 April 2020: Update for final year students

You may have seen our recent update on the Scheme for Registration current pre-registration trainees.

We realise that there are lots of optometry students who were planning to enrol on the Scheme this summer, so we wanted to provide a specific update for you.

We understand the anxiety and uncertainty you are feeling right now. From early on in this crisis we have been working with the Optometry Schools Committee (OSC), which represents each of your universities, to ensure that you can graduate this summer and, as long as you get a 2.2. or above, be eligible to enrol on the Scheme. This will be the case even if you haven’t fully completed your patient episodes, or even have some of your core competencies outstanding. We are currently working with the regulator, The General Optical Council (GOC) and the OSC so that you will be able to have any outstanding elements signed off while on the Scheme.

Will I be able to start my pre-reg this summer? And when?
We think it’s important to be honest and say that most current pre-reg trainees will be delayed in completing the Scheme, and this is likely to mean a delay in your start date. Many practices can only accommodate one trainee at a time, and this may be more challenging depending on what practice life is like once the lockdown is lifted but social distancing remains. It will also be affected by how long the temporary changes we’re currently looking at for the Scheme will need to remain in place.

However, it’s important to remember that the Scheme is designed to be flexible. Although the ‘enrolment year’ has technically always started in June, you can enrol at any point, and you will have 2 years and 3 months to complete the Scheme from your individual enrolment date. We are talking to employers at the moment about their plans, and have agreed to work with them, and your universities, to ensure that you are supported once you graduate, especially if there is a delay before you can start in practice. We are also reviewing our supervision arrangements to allow more flexibility for practices to take on trainees. We will be in touch when we have more details on both of these things.

Right now it’s important to focus on the rest of your studies and exams. Please be assured that the College have not forgotten students, and just as we are working hard for all current trainees, we are also working hard to ensure that you can enrol and begin your pre-reg period when the time is right.

Watch our video

 

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29 April 2020: Scheme for Registration update

We realise that this is a difficult and uncertain time for all trainees. We are working every day on allowing trainees to progress on the Scheme for Registration. However, taking an observation-based, face-to-face assessment and adapting it for a lockdown or social distancing situation is challenging. We need to be sure that any changes are safe and fair and, where the requirements relate to GOC standards, gain approval from the GOC.

Since the last update, we have developed our initial plans and have put our proposed changes to the GOC. We are in discussions with them on whether they meet their standards, and the modifications we will need to make. 

We want to assure you that we are working hard on this, but it will take time, given the complexity and scale of the Scheme. As you know, our number one priority, shared by the GOC, is patient safety. The GOC has to be certain that those who register are fully competent and have the required levels of experience to be safe practitioners.

We have also been talking to universities and employers, and working with them to ensure that everyone is supported. 

Proposed changes to the Scheme

We have had queries on the specific changes we are proposing to the Scheme, which we can now share. However, it is important to understand that these are just proposals – we will need GOC approval and support from employers. The plans are also dependent on when and how lockdown is lifted, and how social distancing is relaxed.  

If you are in stage one, we are looking at how we can assess outstanding competencies remotely. Our proposals take account of the fact that that furloughed trainees cannot access patient records or do any work for their employer. Remote assessments may be different from the normal stage one assessments, but they will have the same focus on signing off competencies using, for example, case records or scenarios.

If you are in, or waiting for, stage two, we are working on proposals to assess the overarching competencies remotely. There is no way that we can assess a routine eye examination or a contact lens fit / aftercare without direct observation. We hope to allow these assessments to go ahead as soon as it is safe to do so. 

The OSCE will remain to ensure that everyone that passes the Scheme, whether pre, post or during COVID-19, goes through the same final assessment.

The July OSCE

We’ve made the decision to cancel the July OSCE. We can’t run the exam with social distancing measures in place, and it is not fair to expect out-of-practise trainees to sit a practical exam. We have made more places available at the September OSCE, and if needed, we will arrange a further OSCE sitting before the end of the year.

We are currently collecting and analysing each trainee’s progress on the Scheme up to 18 March. We are also looking carefully at when trainees enrolled on the Scheme. This will help us to fairly extend time on the Scheme for everyone affected by COVID-19, and will include taking account of the cancelled July OSCE for trainees near to the end of their time on the Scheme. 

We will continue to keep you up-to-date. Please be assured that that we are working hard on your behalf, and that the arrangements we will put in place will be fair and safe.

Watch our video

 

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6 April 2020: Scheme for Registration update

Here at the College we appreciate how difficult and worrying this unprecedented time is for all pre-registration trainees. We know that very few trainees and supervisors are still in practice, many have been furloughed, and trainees will not currently have access to patients or patient records and we know that this makes things extremely challenging. 

At the start of the current crisis, we committed to four priorities, as follows:

  • to support trainees, supervisors and assessors
     
  • to make appropriate adaptations to how trainees can progress through the Scheme and demonstrate requirements of registration
     
  • to minimise disruption to trainees’ progression through the Scheme
     
  • to arrange for extensions to the allotted time for trainees affected by these exceptional circumstances

So, we are providing this update on the work we are doing to explore temporary changes to the Scheme.

  • The Education team is currently working hard to develop ways in which we can assess and progress the sign-off of trainees on all 75 GOC stage 2 competencies in the fairest way that is safe, and respects current government guidelines on social distancing and self-isolation.
     
  • Last week, we convened a special working group made up of assessors, supervisors, examiners and assessment experts. This group considered how we can safely adapt Scheme requirements. Some of the ideas we discussed focused on:
    • How we can provide learning materials to support trainees currently not in practice. This included how we can develop a virtual, online replacement for the Hospital Eye Service placement
    • How we can use remote assessment technology within Stage 1 and 2 without compromising standards and fairness for trainees
    • How we can run the direct observation aspects of the work-based assessments and the OSCE in the most efficient way possible 7 once face-to-face assessments can resume.
    • The guidance we will need to provide for everyone once the temporary changes are finalised
       
  • Our initial proposals are due to be scrutinised by the College’s Education & Standards Committee before being submitted to the GOC later this week for approval
     
  • Once we have received approval from the GOC, we will begin to develop the detail of our plans. 

We are also working with university optometry education teams, through the Optometry Schools Council, to explore how we can best support new graduates enrolling into the Scheme, as well as students on integrated degree programmes. We plan to develop a supportive learning and development resource to support new trainees.

We do not yet know how long the current restrictions will last or how long temporary changes will need to be in place. While we are working hard to overcome these challenges, it would not be right for us to rush the changes we make or not consult with appropriate parties. Trainees who qualify from the Scheme can move into fully independent, unsupervised practice, so we have to ensure that the alternative assessment arrangements we propose are rigorous and ensure patient and public safety, while also being practical to implement. 

We will continue to keep you updated over the coming weeks. 

Watch our video

 

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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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