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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)

  • Looks like the BMA has shot themselves in the foot over this one. What do we do about the licensing we have already done? Looks like the GP us being used as cheap labour for the applicant to not have a full medical. This isn't my job. Keep me out of it thanks.

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  • This is absolutely the right approach and one that my Practice has already taken.
    The admin team code that the patient has firearm then returns the letter saying it is not contracted work.
    if a subsequent request for a medical report is received we produce a factual report after the patient has paid an appropriate fee.
    we do not offer an opinion on there safety to own a weapon

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  • If you have to respond promptly, as per the BMA advice, can you write to the chief constable and say "we will not be providing any reports; should you ask for any, there will be a charge of [x sausages] for returning the letter to you; unless we hear from you to the contrary we assume you agree to these conditions."?

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  • Good news, Dr Skolar as above will do them all for free; perhaps he could provide his address so we know where to refer all future requests.

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  • So what can farmers regally shoot?

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  • That's legally

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  • The open ended expectation that you will inform the police if the medical history changes and you happen to notice the firearms code is even more scary than the original ' please check my notes for free and put your name and registration to it ' request.
    As above the GP in the lotty driver was scrutinised. If there was a killing with guns the scrutiny of the GP would be exponentially higher.
    This is not a criticism of gun ownership but a criticism of a system which demands safeguards without acknowledging that someone has to do this work.

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  • We have declined to do any for the past twenty five years. Amusing to see the BMA still has delusions of relevance; why anyone remains a member is a mystery.

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  • Why on earth did the BMA come to a negotiation in the first place? Show some strength and common sense BMA!

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  • Some of the work I do is paid for by the public purse therefore anything else I do should be for free especially if public safety is involved?! You want my professional opinion - you pay for it like any other professional would demand. I do enough pro bono work as it is.

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