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GPs to share more information with police on firearms licence suitability

GPs could have a new role in advising on patients’ suitability to hold a firearms license, after the BMA identified that public safety was being jeopardised by the existing regulations, a home office letter has said.

The BMA, Home Office, police and shooting organisations are currently developing new national arrangements after recent shootings identified the need for better, and more consistent information sharing between police and GPs about the medical conditions which could affect a person’s suitability to posses a gun.

The home office is now calling on GPs to submit their views and experiences of firearms licensing and what role they should be playing, before a final decision is taken on increasing the amount of data sharing with the police.

Currently practices receive a letter when a patient has been issued or reissued a firearm, and will be asked to give concerns. GPs are not obliged to respond to these letters but where they do disclose information must first seek patient consent – unless the patient poses an immediate risk to themselves or others.

In some areas GPs may be asked to give a reference or asked to disclose medical history. The BMA contest GPs should be paid for any work done for the police but there is no nationally agreed fee.

The Home Office letter states: ‘In the interests of public safety, it is essential to ensure that the police have access to all relevant information, including on medical fitness, when they consider a firearm or shotgun application or the ongoing suitability of a person to continue to possess a gun.’

‘New arrangements, once agreed, will be underpinned by an information sharing agreement setting out clearly the role of the GP and police.’

Pilots are currently underway in two areas, with GPs in Durham reviewing all firearms applications before they are submitted to police, and in Wiltshire pilots are under way to test an ‘enduring marker’ which goes on the medical records of firearms holders so GPs can flag up any medical concerns.

Wessex LMCs are also in consultation about rolling out the ‘enduring marker’ scheme in some practices.

The BMA has previously criticised proposals for routine assesment of firearms licensees as ‘unreasonable’.