The police sent me my first Firearms Licensing form this week. These may be old hat to more rustically-situated readers, but working as I do in an area where if a patient tells you they spent the weekend shooting on their estate you can be reasonably sure no grouse were involved, I hadn’t seen one before.
How did we end up here?
It’s a real piece of work, this form, combining my twin bugbears of unfunded time-sapping admin and sneaky responsibility-dumping in a masterpiece of bureaucratic doublespeak that would have Orwell and Kafka high-fiving in admiration. It blithely reassures that ‘at a later stage a medical report may be required’, even as it forces you to check the patient’s notes in full against an amorphous ticklist of past medical history (‘any other condition which you think may be relevant’). In other words, to provide a bloody medical report. Of course, there’s no mention of payment for this.
How did we end up here? In the Pulse comments section, a BMA negotiator suggests that the form should be completed from memory in a couple minutes. Bizarrely, the justification for this slapdash approach is the fact that the BMA had already agreed GPs would do the forms for no payment. When you consider that the average firearm licensee inhabits the demographic of ‘middle-aged man who never bothers the doctor’ (and, for all I know, that of ‘likely to be described posthumously by neighbours as keeping himself to himself’), this seems remarkably cavalier.
The BMA have belatedly issued vague guidance on charging fees, but even this carries a passive-aggressive tone which implies that perhaps you should just take on the extra work and risk for nowt. I know some colleagues will just meekly sign the form and send it off to avoid any awkwardness with their patients, and I can sympathise with this approach, given that the patients in question have been officially confirmed to be packing heat. I too was on the cusp of signing the damn thing (albeit begrudgingly, while pointedly listening to N.W.A). In the nick of time, I discovered this handy letter from Devon LMC, which I now have loaded as a template ready to deflect the next firearms form that darkens my door.
I’m sick of GPs being treated like the societal version of activated charcoal; if there’s a bit of unaccounted clinical or medico-legal risk floating about in the system that needs absorbing, send in a GP to soak it up. Well, screw that; we know what happens to charcoal – it gets systematically burnt out, crushed, devoured, and then unceremoniously spewed up once it has served its purpose. Here’s an idea: let’s stop taking on extra work for free, and be sensible about what we agree to in future.
Dr Pete Deveson is a GP in Surrey. You can follow him on Twitter @PeteDeveson