The College of Optometrists

About the guidance

The Guidance for Professional Practice helps you to put your patients’ interests first, and work in partnership with them to provide the best possible care. It is the College’s view of good practice, not ‘best practice’ or ‘gold standard practice’, and sets out what is expected of optometrists.

This Guidance provides the foundations of practice; however, each section needs to be read in the context of practising during the COVID-19 pandemic, and so there are links to current COVID-19 guidance where appropriate within the Guidance. We also advise that you should regularly review The College’s pandemic guidance and Frequently Asked Questions to ensure you remain up to date throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Guidance is relevant to owner practitioners, partners, employees, locums, or pre-registration optometrists, and is useful for students learning about professionalism. It applies in all work environments, including multiples, independent practices and hospitals, and to both NHS and privately-funded services. The Guidance does not change what you must do under the law or your contract and the different sections of the Guidance do not exist in isolation.

The sections on Safety and Quality, Communication, Partnership and Teamwork, and Maintaining Trust underpin the advice given in the Knowledge, Skills and Performance section. When consulting the Guidance, you may, want to read the section Examining patients with learning disabilities together with the section Consent, or read the section The routine eye examination (‘sight test’) with the section Partnership with patients. There are also some patients who fall into more than one category, for example, patients with diabetes or learning disabilities who need a domiciliary eye examination.

The Guidance is there to support you in making clinical decisions. You may decide that specific circumstances mean that, in your professional judgement, you need to take a different course of action. This is fine as long as you can justify that action .

This 2020 edition of the Guidance contains new sections on needs led examinations; examining patients who have hearing loss; examining patients with autism, and more robust guidance on how to manage a patient who makes offensive or inappropriate comments. It also contains updates to aspects of all sections, to provide the best support for your clinical, professional and ethical decisions.

General Optical Council’s Standards of Practice for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians

The Guidance is based on the GOC’s Standards of Practice for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians, and is there to support you in putting those standards into practice.

You should familiarise yourself with the GOC’s standards, and think about how our guidance and the standards interrelate. For example, you should always recognise and work within your limits of competence and keep your knowledge and skills up to date. Similarly, while the GOC’s standard Communicate effectively with your patients obviously matches our section Communication, partnership and teamwork, it also applies, together with all other patient related standards, to the Knowledge, skills and performance section of our Guidance.


We use:

  • must where you have a legal or regulatory obligation to follow the Guidance
  • should where we would normally expect you to follow that course of action. If your professional judgement leads you to take a different action, you must be able to justify that action.

COVID 19 Flag

This edition of the Guidance should be used in conjunction with The College’s Primary care COVID-19 pandemic guidance. We have added links to make it easier to refer to both sets of guidance for quick reference. We continue to advise that you should regularly review The College’s pandemic guidance and Frequently Asked Questions to ensure you remain up to date throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

CET and CPD resources

We have a range of online learning resources, including webinars as well as courses on glaucoma, AMD and independent prescribing, available on our website:

DOCET produces material for all registered optometrists. This includes live CET, video and audio libraries of courses on many different topics and peer discussion material.

Clinical advisers

Our clinical advisers are here to provide a prompt answer to all your clinical and professional questions. You can contact them by email or phone. 

Clinical adviser case files

These popular monthly emails test your professional knowledge with an anonymised ‘real life’ query received by the clinical advisers, together with their response. These complement our ethical scenarios in helping menbers to apply the Guidance in practice. 

Ethical Scenarios 

Our online ethical scenarios are designed to help you apply the Guidance to your everyday practice. 

Peer Discussions

You can use our peer discussion case studies to discuss how you should approach different situations that could occur in your daily practice with your colleagues. 

Higher qualifications

College higher qualifications are available in contact lens practice, glaucoma, low vision, medical retina and paediatric eye care. 

Library services

All College members have free access to e books, journals and certain databases, including British Standards online, via the College library.

If you need a different format

If you need the Guidance in a large print format, email

When the Guidance will be updated

We currently update the Guidance every three years. Only significant changes will be published in the meantime and we will communicate these changes to our members. Please note that this edition of the Guidance should be used alongside the College’s COVID-19 Guidance until advised otherwise.


Winner of Memcom 2016 award for best microsite

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7839 6000



Website developed by NetXtra