For optical professionals registered with the General Optical Council (GOC), allegations of unacceptable or criminal behaviour resulting in an investigation by the GOC can be incredibly damaging to your life, career, professional reputation and self-esteem, so finding the right kind of support during this time is paramount.
At Burton Copeland, we understand how much of a difficult experience professional discipline proceedings can be. Our expert solicitors are on hand to provide you with advice and assistance throughout the investigation, whether you’ve just been referred, or you’re facing a full fitness to practice hearing.
To find out more, contact us today on 0161 827 9500, or fill in our online form and we will get back to you shortly.
How can you help me?
Our regulatory lawyers can provide a wide range of advice and representation, whatever the circumstances of your case may be. Our services include:
- Guidance following the initial referral and during the investigation
- Responding to the GOC on your behalf
- Preparing and advising you on committee meetings
- Representation during GOC hearings or at court
- Appeals to the High Court following a decision
- Advice on Primary Care Trust (PCT) legislation
- Representation at the police station
We also offer advice when a decision has been made by providing information on contingent removals, conditional inclusions, suspension applications, general inclusion applications and applications to remove you from the Performer’s List.
What should I do when I have been notified of a GOC investigation into my fitness to practise?
In the first instance many optical professionals panic and telephone the GOC to discuss the complaint. We would advise you against doing this as anything that you say to the GOC can be recorded for use against you in the future should the matter proceed to a formal hearing. As soon as you receive a letter notifying you of an investigation into your fitness to practise, please telephone the specialist GOC team at Burton Copeland who will be able to assist you.
How does the investigation process work?
The GOC will notify you when a complaint is received about you and will then proceed to gather evidence, including the medical records of the complainant from either optical practices or from hospitals.
Witness statements may also be taken at this stage from the person making the complaint or from anyone else who may be involved.
All of the evidence obtained by the GOC is then sent to you and will be allowed the opportunity to submit a written response to the allegations being made within a set time limit, this being 28 days. If you choose not to respond, or if you do not obtain an extension of time for completion of your response and the deadline is missed, your case will be sent to the GOC Case Examiners (one GOC registered and one lay person) for consideration.
The Investigation Committee will consider all of the evidence and will decide whether to:
- take no further action with or without a letter of advice;
- issue a warning
- refer the matter to the Fitness to Practise Committee
The Case Examiners consider that further information is required before a decision is made. For example, they may think that a health assessment or a performance assessment is necessary and if this is the case, they must refer their recommendation to the Investigation Committee. In addition, if they cannot agree on what action to take, the matter must be referred to the Investigation Committee.
The Investigation Committee will consider the recommendations of the Case Examiners in relation to health or performance assessments and refer the matter back to the Case Examiners for a final decision once such assessments have taken place. If the Case Examiners have not been able to agree on what to do the Investigation Committee can:
- take no further action with or without a letter of advice;
- ask for further investigations to be carried out (such as a health or a performance assessment);
- issue a warning; or
- refer the case to a Fitness to Practise Committee hearing which will be held in public.
Once your case has been referred to the Fitness to Practise Committee, you have the right to apply to the GOC for the investigation to be terminated. If you believe that your case should be terminated, we can assist by making an application on your behalf to the GOC.
Any responses or submissions to the GOC should be tactically thought out. Many optical professionals make the mistake of writing their own response to the GOC without taking legal advice. Bearing in mind, that the GOC can use anything in your response against you, it is advisable to contact a member of Burton Copeland’s professional discipline team as soon as you can in order that a tactical response can be drafted for you to avoid possible prejudice of your case.
What sanctions can the fitness to practise committee impose?
If the Fitness to Practise Committee, having heard and assessed all the evidence in your case, decides that your fitness to practise is not impaired, it can impose a warning against you.
If, however, it decides that on the basis of allegations found proved, having listened to the evidence available, your fitness to practise is impaired, it can impose a fine of up to £50,000 on you.
Alternatively, the Fitness to Practise Committee can impose conditions on your registration which means that, although you will be allowed to continue to practise, this will only be on a restricted basis. The conditions can only be set for a maximum of three years and your compliance will be reviewed by the GOC at regular intervals.
The Fitness to Practise Committee can also decide to suspend your registration for a maximum period of 12 months and you will be unable to practise until the end of the suspension period.
Finally, the Fitness to Practise Committee can remove your name from the optical register. This is often referred to as “erasure” or “striking off”. In these circumstances, you will no longer be able to practise as an optical professional.
Am I able to continue working during an investigation?
If the Investigation Committee considers that you are a risk to the public or a risk to yourself, or if they consider that it is in the public interest, it can instruct the GOC to ask the Fitness to Practise Committee to impose an interim order of either a suspension or conditions on your registration whilst the GOC investigation continues.
If an interim suspension order is imposed, you will not be able to practise at all until a final decision is made at the Fitness to Practise Committee. If an interim order of conditions is imposed, your work will be restricted by the conditions on your registration and this will be the case until a final decision is made by the Fitness to Practise Committee.
If you receive notification that an Interim Order is being considered, please telephone the GOC team at Burton Copeland without delay.
How long do investigations take?
GOC investigations can take a number of months from start to finish as the GOC will need to gather, assess and collate its evidence. You should be kept appraised as to how the investigation is proceeding.
Whilst the GOC investigation is continuing, there is no reason why you cannot be preparing your defence so that you are fully prepared in the event that the matter is referred to the Fitness to Practise Committee. Contact the specialist team at Burton Copeland today. We can help in every aspect of your case preparation to ensure that your defence is as thoroughly prepared as possible.
Can I appeal a decision?
When the Fitness to Practise Committee makes a decision, it will not come into effect until 28 days after the date of the decision to allow time for you to lodge an appeal of the decision with the High Court.
However, if it has been decided that your registration be suspended or your name be removed from the GOC register, the Fitness to Practise Committee will go on to consider whether this order needs to be made immediate. If it considers this to be the case, the order will take effect on the date on which the decision is made, notwithstanding the appeal period. This means that the order will remain in force until the end of the appeal.
If the GOC has made a decision relating to your registration and you wish to appeal it, please contact the specialist team at Burton Copeland who are experienced in handling appeals of this nature.
Burton Copeland: Experts in optical professional discipline
Our dedicated lawyers have dealt with many complex cases of this nature, providing advice and guidance to clients throughout the entire disciplinary process, so we know how to present the strongest possible defence on your behalf.
The team prides itself on dealing with cases sensitively and confidentially, and has a full understanding of GOC legislation, so you can be assured that you’re getting the right support during a stressful and emotional time.
Speak to a solicitor today
If you require legal advice from an experienced professional discipline solicitor, contact Burton Copeland today. If you’re contacting us during office hours, call us on 0161 827 9500, otherwise you should call 0161 832 7834. Alternatively, fill in our contact form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.