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HomeminewsDe-regulated Dispensers – a Backward Step?

De-regulated Dispensers – a Backward Step?

The NSW Government has announced that it will repeal the Optical Dispensers Act 1963 from 1 July 2010, meaning that from that date, persons undertaking optical dispensing in NSW will no longer need to be licensed. The announcement made through a media release from the Optical Dispensers Licensing Board, has elicited condemnation from the Australasian Dispensing Opticians Association (ADOA)

In its own media release in response to the decision, the ADOA said: “The recent decision to deregulate optical dispensing in NSW by the State Government is an unfortunate turn of events for the people of NSW and represents a significant step backwards in the delivery of optical healthcare in this State, and indeed the country as a whole.”

On 11 April this year, the Regulatory Reform Minister, Joe Tripodi, announced the NSW Government’s decision to remove the requirement for licensing for Optical Dispensers in NSW. This decision, he claimed, was based on recommendations of the NSW Better Regulation Office at the conclusion of its review into the licensing of a number of occupations including optical dispensing.

In its media release, the Optical Dispensers Licensing Board said:

“The Occupational Licensing Legislation Amendment (Regulatory Reform) Bill introduced into Parliament on 4 June 2009 implements the recommendations of the Better Regulation Office and will pave the way for:

  • The removal of the licensing requirement for optical dispensers.
  • The classification of optical dispensers as unregistered health practitioners. Optical dispensers will be required to meet minimum standards set out in the Code of Conduct for Unregistered Health Professionals which is enforced by the Health Care Complaints Commission.
  • The amendment of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993 to the Commission to continue to deal with complaints about optical dispensers.

The Better Regulation Office based their recommendations on their finding that there was no net benefit in licensing optical dispensers. In particular the Better Regulation Office found that:

  • Optical dispensing poses minimal risks to the consumer with most issues being resolved by the consumer.
  • No other State in Australia requires licensing to manage health and safety risks and there is no evidence that consumers outside of NSW have been physically harmed by the absence of licensing.
  • Consumers can be adequately protected without licensing.

The NSW Optical Dispensers Licensing Board advises that until the Optical Dispensers Act 1963 is repealed, persons undertaking optical dispensing duties in NSW will continue to require either a valid License or Approval to Practice issued by the Board. The Board’s inspectors will continue to conduct random inspections of optical dispensing outlets to ensure compliance with its legislation. The Board advises that whilst the Optical Dispensers Act 1963 remains in force, action will continue to be taken against persons practising in breach of the Act.”

But the ADOA begs to differ from the Government’s view, saying: “As countries in the Asia Pacific region move towards a more stridently regulated environment, we find ourselves in Australia moving in a retrograde fashion and are out of step with our neighbours. It is problematic to see that other countries and not our own, view a regulated industry as an environment in which professionalism and ethical practice thrive.

“Unfortunately the effects of these actions will not be felt in the next few years and as such are easily discounted. It takes a degree of foresight to anticipate the loss of qualified dispensing staff that will occur once those dispensers currently within the industry retire. Should the Government advocate the removal of incentives towards training of staff when the replenishment of these skilled dispensers will be far less likely to occur?

“Further to this is the ongoing complaint of the governments of Australia, State and Federal that we are facing a skills shortage. Surely an industry which can address its own skills training and competency, without creating any burden on the Government would be an asset, and not a liability, for the Government and indeed the people of NSW and Australia as a whole.

“Optical dispensing can and will, if properly managed, provide a career path that provides not only optical expertise but skills that can be transported to other sectors of the employment market. It would be clearly remiss of any government to endorse a course of action that will ultimately reduce the level of training and truncate the career path options of an entire section of the Australian employment sector.”

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