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Medical involvement in firearms is complex. It needs to achieve a balance between the public interest, medico-legal risks to doctors and those who wish to have access to firearms.
These tensions were exposed by the response to our 2016 guidance – overwhelmingly you said it was unworkable. Although we quickly moved to protect doctors from legal risk, significant problems remained – with calls from all sides for a clear, streamlined system that keeps the public, and doctors, safe. The fallout from 2016 also put significant strain on our relationships with those stakeholders whose involvement was essential to improve the system.
The last few months have finally seen a thawing of many of those relationships, and we now find ourselves in a much more productive dialogue with partners for the benefit of the public, while retaining protection for doctors. In particular, we have welcomed the increased readiness of the Home Office to listen to our concerns and, more importantly, to understand them. Critically, we have made clear to the Home Office that responsibility for assessing the risk presented by those with access to firearms rests exclusively with the police – it is not a role for doctors. We have also been clear that any use of medical flags does not mean doctors have an active duty to monitor the health of those who have access to firearms. We have also met with the Countryside Alliance and found significant common ground. That which brings us together far outweighs that which divides us.
There is still a considerable amount of work needed to bring us to a point where we have a unified national licensing system into which medical evidence fits seamlessly. A system that protects public and doctors alike. But the dialogue has begun. As issues become better defined through discussion across disciplines it illuminates where our guidance requires better explanation and a clearer narrative. With this in mind we have this week updated our guidance on flagging and conscientious objection. Doctors retain the right to principled opposition to involvement in the licensing process.
None of this signals change to our core position – it simply clarifies it. Your response to these updates will be instructive – and we are committed to listening. Finally, it looks as if a sensible, coherent national licensing system could be within reach: good for doctors, good for the public and good for patients.
Mark Sanford-Wood is BMA GPs committee deputy chair
Read the BMA guidance on the firearms licensing process
Locally we are very seldom asked for reports, merely receive a notification that a licence is to be issued and to contact the issuing authority if we have a concern. Is this therefore contrary to the negotiated advice detailed?
Currently when I receive notification from the police of an application for a firearms license, I take a quick look at the notes checking for any significant psychiatric diagnoses etc and if there is nothing of note, I do not respond and pass the letter to the coding team to summarize. Is this appropriate? If I find anything of concern, I have phoned the police department and discussed. Norfolk GP
I work for Firearms Licensing and totally sympathise with the GP practices - surely the most simple and logical solution would be to ensure as part of the granting or renewal of a firearms licence application, that a GP report paid for by the applicant must accompany the form. If this is not agreeable then maybe the cost of the licence should reflect the police requesting the report/addition of the coding from the GP.
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