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GPs should refuse all firearms licence requests, says BMA in U-turn

The BMA has advised GPs to reject all firearms licence requests from the police due to a lack of funding, signalling a change in its original position.

Since April, GPs have been required to provide police with information about patients wishing to own a gun, but the BMA's previous advice had been vague as to whether GPs can charge a fee.

However, the BMA has now said that GPs should reject all requests it receives from the police, after the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) advised their members to refuse to pay a fee to the GP for this process.

The BMA says that GPs should ‘return the letter to the police without delay’, telling them they are unable to do the work due to a ‘lack of funding or for a conscientious objection to gun ownership’.

This is the latest controversy since the new process of firearms licences was brought in from April.

The new regulations - which were agreed with the BMA - require GPs to inform the police whether they have any concerns about the patient receiving a firearms licence, whether the patient has any relevant medical conditions (such as depression or dementia) and to put a firearm reminder code on the patient record.

Previously, policeonly contacted an individual’s GP before the issue of a firearm certificate if an applicant has declared a relevant medical condition.

But GPs criticised the regulations after they were announced, pointing out that there is no provision for them to be paid for the work, which is outside the GMS contract.

Devon LMC issued a template letter for GPs to refuse to participate in the firearms licensing process, stating that GPs are not suitably qualified to give an opinion on whether there are concerns about a patient.

Both the LMC conference in May and the recent BMA Annual Representatives Meeting voted for changes to the firearms licensing process.

Now the BMA has told GPs that this is ‘work that is not a condition of the GP contract and therefore a fee can be charged.’

It says: 'We are now advising GPs to return the letter to the police without delay explaining they are unable to undertake the work due to a lack of funding or for a conscientious objection to gun ownership.’

The BMA guidance emphasises that GPs should return the letter as soon as possible, because if GPs delay or disregard the letter they could place themselves ‘at professional risk’.

Dr Paul Roblin, chief executive of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire LMCs, has been campaigning on the issue since it was introduced.

He said: 'My view is that the belief that the amount of information in the initial GP response does not justify a charge is wrong. The NHS should not be subsidising non-NHS work, and the cost of GP input should be funded by a proportion of the application fee covering GP time and input

'The GP has to review the notes, looking through summary pages, many years of consultations, A&E attendances & letters to check for the conditions & history listed. Only once this work has been done can a box be ticked.

'This judgement carries medico-legal implications, so care must be taken even at the first response stage.'

The BASC said it was ‘disappointed that some doctors are now demanding payment for a matter that affects public safety and in opposition to the agreement reached by the BMA’ and ‘advises applicants to refuse to pay any fee demanded’.

Paul Dale, BASC firearms officer said: ‘After all the work that the representatives of all interests put into the agreement on medical involvement I am deeply disappointed that some doctors see the process as yet another chance to make money. Public safety should mean more to them than a fee.’

However, this may mean that GPs do not take part in the firearms licensing process at all.

The BMA says: ‘Although our change in position will mean the majority of GPs will withdraw from participating in the process, it is still important to inform members how the current process works for those who choose to participate or where applicants are happy to pay the fee.’

This initial letter from the police is currently sent after the applicant has received a licence, but is being changed to be sent before the licence is granted.

The BMA’s advice only applies to the initial letter from the police - BASC is still advising members to pay for a full medical report if the police request one, which they may do if the GP says they have concerns.

Readers' comments (39)

  • Another U turn and we'll be back where we started. Well done BMA !

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  • Refused to do so for years irrespective of BMA guidance which was deemed pathetic.
    Likewise for not charging foreign patients for medical care.
    BMA is lacking balls they need to sort themselves out and I mean at all levels. Should you wish further examples bring it on.

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  • I am commenting as a retired GP and a firearms certificate holder. I have never charged for any comments to police or other authorities re firearms and as a 22 prone rifle shooter whose targets are pieces of paper, I find it difficult to have any conscientious objection to an Olympic sport. Shotgun certificates appear to have much less input from GPs or anyone else and can cause a hell of a lot more damage.

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  • But shotguns are an important tool for the farmer. It's not just about sport.

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  • allelujia
    well well done wonderful BMA
    never thought I'd say that
    thought I'd shoot myself first

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  • There is a very simple solution to this.
    If you can afford a shotgun and ammunition you can afford to pay a fee to the doctor.
    No fee-no shotgun licence!
    Why should we provide a free service ?

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  • The guidance still says that practices should respond to such letters "without delay" ("We are now advising GPs to return the letter to the police without delay").

    I would have thought it acceptable for practices to inform the police - once - that they will not be responding to any such letters, and thereafter to file them in the round filing container (ie not respond to them). Why should they be obliged to keep responding, when they've already said they won't?

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  • To be honest I would rather not be doing these certificates at all, paid or not, given the massively more important daily health issues and workload to be going on with.
    Rather surprised by retired GPs logic above saying guns are OK because 'it is an Olympic Sport'
    Presumably also OK to clear out shopping malls with a weapon on this basis?

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  • Surely, even bigger concern here as pointed out by the Devon LMC is that we do not have the expertise to give a professional opinion.

    How many of us have experience or training in assessing this? Do people not remember the glasgow GP summoned to the court to justify her assessment after the lorry driver blacked out an killed people? You could be next.....

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