GPs will complete a standardised ‘medical proforma’ as part of a firearms licence application, and are able to charge a fee for doing so, finalised Government guidance has said.
The new guidance, published on 20 October and enforced from the start of November, confirmed that police officers – and not GPs – would be legally liable for judging whether someone is able to possess a firearm, and for checking medical records of applicants.
Applicants will ask their GP to complete a medical proforma as part of their firearms application form and the process will also be the same for the renewal of certificates, the guidance said.
The BMA had called for clarity on the GP role in licensing firearms in August, after home secretary Priti Patel said GPs would have to make an ‘assessment’ of applicants’ mental health.
The new document has now provided some clarification, saying: ‘Doctors should not be asked to give general access to an applicant’s medical record as this may result in doctors being in breach of the Data Protection Act 2018.
‘Nor should they be asked to either endorse or oppose applications. Responsibility for the decision about whether a person is suitable to be granted a certificate lies with the police, not the doctor.’
Certificates should not be granted in the absence of medical information, but it is the chief officers who will ‘consider’ this information and ‘assess any issues regarding medical suitability’.
The guidance listed relevant mental conditions which could prevent the applicant from safely owning a firearms license, including depression or anxiety, dementia, or alcohol and drug abuse.
The document added: ‘The list above is not intended to be exhaustive. Doctors should consider any other mental or physical condition which may affect the individual’s safe possession of a firearm or shotgun, now or in the future.
‘The police may approach the applicant’s GP to obtain relevant medical information both during the application process and at any time during the validity of the certificate if there are concerns about the applicant’s continued fitness to possess firearms safely.’
The guidance also said:
- The doctor may also charge a fee for supplying information to the police. If the information indicates that a medical report is required, doctors can also charge a fee for this.
- If the police still wish to obtain a more detailed report, after having received further information, they may request this from the applicant’s GP, and should meet the costs associated themselves.
- When a firearm or shotgun certificate is granted, the police will contact the applicant’s GP to ask them to add a firearms marker to the patient’s medical record on a ‘best endeavours basis’.
- The marker will be a reminder to the GP that they ‘may need to notify the police if a person begins to suffer from a relevant medical condition, or a relevant condition worsens significantly, specifically when this may affect the person’s ability to possess a firearm safely’.
- There is ‘no requirement for GPs to monitor or assess a patient who currently holds a firearm certificate, but they should consider notifying the police if they become aware that relevant aspects of a licence holder’s circumstances have changed that mean they may no longer be safe to hold a firearms licence’.
- If the certificate is revoked or cancelled, expires and is not renewed, or if the application is refused, it is the police’s responsibility to inform the GP within one month. The GP can then remove the firearm marker from the patient’s record.
BMA’s professional fees committee chair Dr Peter Holden, a former lead negotiator on the issue, welcomed the guidance.
He told Pulse it means there is ‘certainly no more’ workload for GPs, and welcomed the fact that the process is now the ‘same’ everywhere in the UK.
He said: ‘If your practice straddles constabulary boundaries – we’re at the junction of three and there are two or three practices in [my] county that are at a junction of three constabularies – you had three different forms.
‘You can now set it up as a template, if you’re well computerised. We’ve done this at our rural branch practice. You’ve still got to peruse the notes, but you’ve no longer got to write an essay, because some police forces were virtually trying to get a medical from you for free. Others were simply saying, “Can you confirm there is no history of ABCDEF and G?” That’s what we’ve got now.’
But Dr Holden cautioned: ‘I strongly advise doctors not to prepare the second report until they’ve got the money, because the guy may decide [they are] not going to get this licence after you’ve done all the work, and will discontinue his application.’
And Dr Holden stressed that if a GP does not want to take part in a patients firearms application process, they retain ‘the right conscientiously object’.
He said: ‘The idea is you do what [you can] do if somebody asked for an abortion, which is refer to a colleague down the road.’
Click to complete relevant mental health CPD modules on Pulse Learning.