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Independents' Day

New BMA negotiator to take on firearms licensing row with the Government

Exclusive Former GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden has been appointed head of the BMA’s professional fees committee after members raised issue with the way it handled negotiations over firearms licensing.

Dr Holden told Pulse that the BMA had been reluctant to ‘say boo to the goose’ in negotiating over fees for extra contractual work and it was time to ‘break the concept that doctors are a "free good"'.

The UK firearms lobby includes very ‘influential people’, said Dr Holden, who were protesting charges for GPs to provide a medical license 'despite spending more than that on a box of ammunition'.

He said: ‘I was put up to it by six people, because they weren’t happy with the way the firearms issue was handled. The issue has been the BMA have been too reluctant to say boo to a goose.'

Problems over firearms licensing sparked in 2015 when the police watchdog, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, recommended anyone wanting a gun license get a medical report. Since then the BMA has updated its guidance twice, and it remains in negotiations with the Home Office about changing the process to be less onerous on GPs.

But Dr Holden said: 'The bottom line is, too many people are enthralled to the firearms lobby which incorporates some very influential people, who believe they shouldn’t have to pay for a medical. Yet they will spend many times that on a box of ammunition, scores of times that on a gun.’

He added that it remained the case that GPs, as professionals, could waive their fee  – for example in rural areas with large numbers of hill farmers - but that it was up to individuals to decide 'who I work for charitably, and at what time'.

‘There’s a more fundamental thing we need to tackle, rather than “what can GPs charge people for”. We need to break the concept that GPs and other doctors are a free good,' he said.

Dr Holden previously chaired the professional fees committee from 1997 to 2006 and told Pulse that in this time he took income from professional fees to '40% ahead of inflation'. He replaces Dr John Canning in the role.

A BMA spokesperson said: 'The BMA's guidance on firearms is informed by professional experience, updated as necessary, and is subject to independent legal advice.

'The BMA continues to liaise directly with the Home Office on our members' behalf, and has expressed our members' concerns on many aspects of the current licensing system. Our engagement is aimed at providing doctors with the best advice while working with government to ensure public safety.'

What is the firearms licensing row about?

The professional fees committee welcomed the suggestion when it was first proposed, as long as it did not add to GP workload and on the assumption that GPs could charge a fee.

But the current firearms licensing system sees the police approach GPs when a patient tries to obtain a license, with officers writing they will assume GPs have approved the process if they don’t reply.

GPs have objected that they are being asked to operate outside their professionalism in making an assessment over whether someone was psychologically fit to own a weapon.

The row has seen LMCs issuing template letters for rejecting requests, and guidance from the BMA that GPs could refuse on the basis of a conscientious objection was reversed last summer.

A motion agreed in November approved the BMA to renegotiate directly with the Home Office over licensing as GPs rejected the idea they should be ‘interpreting medical evidence’ for the police to decide someone’s suitability to hold a license.



Readers' comments (9)

  • Good. A fair chance that this might get sorted properly now.

    Could Dr Holden also handle the main GP contract negotiations please, he's not afraid of breaking a few eggs....

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  • If the government and constabulary really want to reform the gun licensing process they should invest in it properly. We need an independent body like the DVLA to collect and manage the data and arbitrate over license provision. GPs should be fairly compensated for filling out forms but we cannot take on the responsibility for risk assessment and decide who is licensed or not because the courts will be coming after us with manslaughter charges the next time someone goes on the rampage with a shotgun.

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  • There should be a charge for :
    -Safeguarding information sent to Councils/Allied social care agencies
    -Removal of cap of £10 on printed notes sent to any institution with min fee of £50
    - Min fee for reports prepared for Councils and Courts.
    The ICO guidelines that you can't charge more than £50 per set of notes even when there are 5 packed Lloyd bundles.
    In general, charge for every bit of paper leaving the Surgery which is not mentioned in the GMS Contract.
    BMA guidelines for charges are obsolete and do not reflect the reality on the ground or compare with fees charged for similar tasks by solicitors or other Agencies.
    BMA needs to be real and stand up to the government else they'll lose the rest of their members.

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  • The BMA are ineffectual,we need a rethink!We need an alternative union please.Wheres our vote Chand.

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  • Bringing in the big guns - but efforts may be better directed elsewhere?

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  • Negotiators:
    Please please please sort the issue of ongoing monitoring. We simply cannot pick every patient with a firearms code when looking at the 100s of letters about patients every day.
    If the police are serious about this they would want annual review, like lorry drivers. The face they don't means they just want to offload risk.
    The 'monitoring by default' aspect of this is the worst.
    Please please please sort this part!
    Please please please sort this part!
    Please please please sort this part!

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  • Council of Despair

    this is the most important issue affecting General Practice right now - forget about everything else.

    thank goodness we have another member of the establishment to sort out an agreement in which we end up doing what we are told - i am relieved.

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  • Good to hear BMA is making changes though it was BMA who made the poor decision to place this unfunded work on us.

    As above - monitoring is burdensome. We don't have the skills necessary to evaluate safe gun possession. No do we have time. And we certainly shouldn't be doing it for free.

    Happy to provide access to record as all patients are entitled. What they make of the information should not be the GP's problem. We are general practitioner working for national health. Not specialist psychologist/psychiatrist working for police force.

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  • As stated at the emergency LMC conference this time last year, this is much more about the medico-legal threat than the fees. Putting the emphasis on fees could be interpreted that we collude with the policing aspect, as emphasised by Sax Imomoz above. We are returning all of these requests to the police, at the risk of upsetting local farmers (a profession with a high suicide risk, similar to doctors)

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