Patients told they need GP firearms sign-off after police updates guidance
Patients wanting to own a firearm will have to get GP sign-off first, under new guidance from Kent Police.
The new guidance, which came into effect from the end of May, states that every person applying for a firearm, shotgun or explosives licence ‘will be required to provide medical information verified by a GP’.
Previously, if the police force did not receive a response to its request for medical information from an applicant’s GP, it assumed that there were no medical issues and granted the applicant a licence.
Kent Police said this is a ‘dangerous assumption’ and the police are ‘no longer prepared to accept that risk’. However, local GPs said the new guidance will 'inevitably increase GP workload'.
Under the new requirements GPs will also no longer have to provide annual updates on the medical status of applicants, with the information provided remaining valid for five years to cover the length of the licence.
The BMA has previously said the assumption that no response from a GP meant the patient was fit to hold a firearm 'was particularly problematic', advising GPs not to ignore request letters.
Assistant Chief Constable Peter Ayling said: ‘It is a dangerous assumption to believe that just because someone has not provided verified medical information, they are safe to own and use firearms, shotguns or explosives, and we are no longer prepared to accept that risk.
‘There are more than 27,000 licences in Kent and the local shooting community are very responsible and we want to work together with them to ensure the safety of all.
‘We have a duty to protect every resident in the county and this new process will protect both licence holders and the public.’
But Dr Zishan Syed, LMC representative for West Kent, told Pulse: 'Inevitably this will increase GP workload and it is not GMS work. This should be paid for with a separate fee for those willing to complete.'
And Dr Syed said he was 'concerned that some GPs feel the need to add a read code on the clinical record regarding firearms, which could potentially have alarming legal consequences for the GP if there is a new health issue that leads to harm being sustained from a gun'.
'Police should be getting such approval from a qualified specialist and it is not appropriate to be divesting this responsibility onto GPs. I do hope the BMA does more to protect its members rather than capitulating to the police.'
The news follows a BMA guidance U-turn last year. It initially advised GPs who conscientiously object to holding firearms to help patients find the applicant another doctor, before later saying this was unnecessary.
GPs have been involved in the firearms application process since 2016, when they were asked to place a ‘firearm reminder’ code in their records to act as an alert if the health of gun owners deteriorates.
What should GPs do?
The BMA currently advises practices against flagging notes, ‘due to the imprecise nature of flags, the lack of clear protocols for their appropriate removal and the absence of reliable software to facilitate the surveillance and cross-referencing of flags with diagnoses of concern’.
But Kent LMC medical secretary Dr John Allingham said in an LMC newsletter: ‘The police recommend that the medical record is tagged to indicate the patient holds a firearms licence and there are relevant read (and snomed) codes.
‘Not everyone agrees with this. From a personal viewpoint I would like to know before I enter the house of a confused or agitated patient if there might be a firearm within.’
He told Pulse the LMC was 'presented with a fait accompli by the police'. He added: 'We do not support the change.'
But he said the police 'make it clear to licence holders the onus is on them to obtain a medical report,' with LMC guidance stating that 'it is not mandatory for GPs to complete these reports'.