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All GPs must help patients obtain firearms licences if requested, BMA says

GPs who refuse to deal with firearms licensing requests because of conscientious objection have to help patients find another doctor, says updated BMA guidance.

The new guidance says GPs ‘must engage in the process of firearms licensing when requested to do so’ and if GPs refuse to engage with the process based on conscientious objection they have to put in place alternative options for the patient.

Since April this year, GPs have been expected to keep a record of all patients who own a gun – and to inform police if anybody develops a mental health problem such as depression.

Previous BMA advice said that GPs may be able to refuse based on conscientious objection to gun ownership but the updated guidance says this refusal would have to be undertaken in line with GMC guidance.

This requires GPs to notify patients of this objection in advance, and if the service is not easily available from another doctor, ‘the GP that objects has a professional duty to put in place alternative arrangements for the provision of the relevant services or procedures without delay'.

The new guidance replaces previous guidance that stated that GPs should refuse all firearms requests after the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) advised its members to refuse to pay a fee to the GP for this process.

But after discussions with the BASC, the Home Office and taking external legal advice, the BMA has now said that the new guidance ‘takes account of the regulatory obligations on the part of GPs and specifically the requirement to “comply with all relevant legislation”’.

The advice goes onto say that this ‘obliges GPs to cooperate with and agree to facilitate statutory processes in which they have a prescribed role or function’.

The guidance still allows for GPs to charge for firearms licences, saying: ‘However, it is also clear that where a fee for the relevant services has not been provided within the terms of the GMS contract, it may be demanded and that the GP can withhold such services until such time as the fee has been paid.‘

It later says: 'The demand for a fee may form a condition, which if not fulfilled, means the GP can refuse to engage in the firearms certification process.’

The guidance re-emphasises that GPs cannot simply ignore the letter from the police or delay a reply as this places them at professional risk.

This advice only applies to the initial letter from the police, which asks if GPs have any concerns about the patient applying for the firearms licence. BASC still advises any licence applicants to pay if a medical report is requested as part of the licensing process.

Dr John Canning, GPC professional fees and regulation subcommittee chair, said it is 'unacceptable' for GPs 'to take no action at all' when they receive a request.

He told Pulse: 'If someone comes in and says, "I’m a gamekeeper, I’m very depressed and I’ve got a gun and I’m thinking of using it" and I do nothing about it then I’m in grave danger of having to explain myself.'

It comes as GPs received letters from firearms licensing bodies suggesting they could not refuse requests.

The Firearms and Explosives Licensing Department of Hampshire Constabulary wrote that it 'will regard you as having a part to play in the duty of care to prevent harm and loss of life and the management of risk around licence holders'.

Tony Hill, firearms licensing manager at the constabulary, said they 'regard the GP as having shared responsibility with us for the prevention of harm through the use, or threat of use, of licensed firearms'.

He said that if GPs don't engage with the process 'there is a danger that medical conditions that might affect the suitability of a person to possess firearms may go unreported to us'.

He added: 'The possible consequences of this for the patient or others are clearly severe, and it is for this reason that we point out the potential ramifications for these doctors.'

 

 

 

Readers' comments (57)

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  • So when I receive a notification I have to rely on the accuracy of my practice coding and any previous practice the patient may have been registered with (as notes transferred via GP2GP). I then need a failsafe method of flagging up any concerns to the police if my patient develops a condition that I deem to be a risk. If something dreadful happens then I can be blamed for not noticing or notifying something that in retrospect is deemed pertinent. And I'm doing this work when in my day? And for free (as how are we going to invoice, be paid and guarantee a response to the police within 14 days).

    Thanks BMA.

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  • I am none the wiser as to what I am to do???

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  • Damned if we do damned if we dont.Are we qualified to diagnose a personality disorder.Do the police inform the patient there may be a charge involved with this service.There are two many firearms around anyway,It about time the police stopped trying to infer that the gp IS IDEALLY PLACED AGAIN!

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  • For goodness sake - this is an absolutely ridiculous "GPs must". Use of firearms is largely shotguns and is a leisure activity.Having to do things (a la GMC and BMA) to facilitate a patients hobby is outrageously directive and quite frankly none of my damm business. If patients want to spend their days killing pheasants than society can take a view on the safeguards required and sort it out. Compelling GPs to do this is a step too far.What next - forcing us to take patients blood pressure before they play tiddlywinks?

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  • Has the BMA actually reduced any unfunded GP workload???

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  • This is not a health matter. This is not a contractual matter.This is not a court matter. I cannot be compelled to compile a report if I do not wish to.

    The answer then is NO. A letter, a templates of which has done the rounds, should be sent to the local Chief Constable. That is the end of it. It then becomes the Police's duty to find another doctor to 'certify', not yours.

    Seriously BMA support your members don't shaft them!

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  • Dear All,
    Certainly there does appear to be a significant difference from this BMA guidance and the Home Office's own guidance which can be found at;

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/518193/Guidance_on_Firearms_Licensing_Law_April_2016_v20.pdf

    You only need to read the last 10 of the 270 pages, the annexes that detail the new process.

    Regards
    Paul C

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  • Dear 5.52pm, could I just mention as a legal firearms owner and a 'retired' doctor and firearms owner, fire arms owners too are being caught up in the middle of all these politics.
    My husband shoots for Scotland (as do I) and he is the captain of a successful Scottish rifle team. He previously competed in the Commonweath games.
    He also is regularly called upon to put severly road injured animals out of their misery.
    He also occasionally uses shotgun. He also uses rifles for stalking deer or rabbits due to the rural nature of his job.
    Please don't forget some have to have firearms licences as part of their work as well as part of their leisure activities.

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  • This requires GPs to notify patients of this objection in advance, and if the service is not easily available from another doctor, ‘the GP that objects has a professional duty to put in place alternative arrangements for the provision of the relevant services or procedures without delay'.
    Would someone at the BMA like to clarify what this aspect of the new guidance means? Assuming all partners at a practice wish to conscientiously object, what alternative is being recommended? I need to have an alternative course of action that I can invoke otherwise I am being forced to engage in a process which I disagree with, which presumably infringes on my human rights.

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