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In April 2016 new guidelines for the licensing of firearms and shotguns to private individuals were introduced in the UK. This followed lengthy debates over some years between the many interested parties including the Home Office, police, BMA and various shooting organisations. Many reservations were raised by the BMA in these discussions about the workability and safety of the proposed system. In particular the systemic assumption of no report received by the police from the GP being equivalent to a medical endorsement of the application was particularly problematic.
Despite the BMA’s cautions the system went live and immediately provoked significant concerns from GPs who found themselves caught in the ethical tension between a responsibility to maintain public safety and a system that patently lacked rigour. Worse still, the guidelines were introduced with no agreement around how the work would be funded which threatened to divert resources away from frontline clinical care for the sick at a time of crisis in general practice. Unsurprisingly, the profession expressed their concerns vocally, and the call for a system that maintained public safety while protecting doctors from the legal risks inherent in licensing private individuals to carry lethal weapons became unavoidable.
Because most of the unacceptable impacts of the new system fell to general practitioners the GP Committee (GPC) of the BMA temporarily took over the lead for this issue in November 2016 and established a Task and Finish group to address the matter urgently. We have now concluded our work, and the task having been finished we are now very happy to publish our new augmented guidance. The aim of the group was to provide safe, ethical and legally watertight advice to GPs that catered for their wide range of approaches. General practice has always been a very broad church. We recognised that and concluded that our advice needed to be equally multi-stranded. The guidance therefore caters for the conscientious objector and firearm owning GP alike, and offers a range of options to satisfy different personal positions and professional expertise.
While compiling the advice to keep doctors safe within the current system, the second major strand of work we have been pursuing has been to negotiate changes to the system itself. This remains a work in progress but we have already had a productive meeting with the Home Office and police representatives who indicate that they are keen to work towards a system that addresses all needs.
A major stumbling block has been the question of the funding for the process, and there have been a number of high profile articles in the national press highlighting the plight of shooters who have been charged by their GP for the production of reports. Some of these reports have been very critical of the BMA and doctors in general. The BMA is very conscious that in all Law codes across the UK there is no right to bear arms. To carry weapons is a criminal offence, and the issuing of a firearms certificate is a significant privilege which exempts the holder from normal legal constraints. The question therefore comes down to who should pay for that privilege.
Most reasonable people expect that the costs of a private hobby are borne by the hobbyist and should not be subsidised by the taxpayer. There are many such examples from diving to parachuting, and HGV driving to flying. I hold a private pilot’s license and the thought that the NHS should provide me with free pilot medicals has never once crossed my mind. Unfortunately, police constabularies are not in a position to factor medical report costs into the fee they charge the hobbyist and so the only fair way of this being resourced is a direct charge to the applicant. This argument is only strengthened when we consider that a box of 250 12-bore Bismuth cartridges, an essential for a decent weekend shoot, currently retails at £500. It is difficult to support a claim for exceptional treatment in such circumstances regardless of whether the shooting lobby exercises significant political influence.
Any expectation that a doctor will provide this service free of charge represents a de facto transfer of NHS resources from the sick to shotgun owners. The BMA cannot agree to that principle and I believe that the British public support our stance. I do not believe that the average person on the Clapham omnibus supports a reduction in health services in order to provide financial assistance to reduce the cost of pheasant shooting.
We hope that our new guidance will clarify the situation for doctors and give them the guidance they need to respond safely and professionally in a way that fits their circumstances. The options offered have been rigorously debated and have been the subject of legal advice and opinion to ensure they comply with all relevant legislation.
I am very conscious of the distress and anxiety that this episode has caused for GPs who have consequently felt very exposed. I am very grateful, however, to the members of our Task and Finish group and to the staff at the BMA who have helped to craft this advice. Given the cross-checks and professional advice that has been required the three months we have taken to reach this point has been a challenging target. While I am pleased to have concluded the production of this guidance I am also aware that it has been sorely needed and keenly awaited.
We continue to work with the Home Office and police for improvements to the system. As such changes are effected in the future our guidance will be subject to further revisions in order to keep it current.
Mark Sanford-Wood is the Firearms Task & Finish Group Lead
The thing I find curious about this is that you lot are complaining about the resource implications and how overworked you are but a few more pounds in your pocket and suddenly there is not a problem. Also, the comment about using 250 cartridges on a shoot costing £500 is bollocks and is symptomatic of the arrogant, out of touch, attitude so common to those who have no idea about shooting sports.
I was initially told that to provide a medical report in support of my firearms licencing application would be between £40 and £50. Now this morning I have been told that information was incorrect and the charge is £150. £150 for the same report that would cost £50! How can they justify this!
Excellent thank you for this work
Anonymous-we do not want to do it at all, but because we HAVE to, and because we must do all our proper NHS work first, we will likely be writing the report at about 10pm (after a non-stop 16 hour day at work) when we should be either at home with our families OR asleep in bed!
We therefore deserve to value our time
As usual with doctors, always playing the overworked card but always remedied by extra cash in the hand. Not too overworked to act as locums and take on extra paid work within CCGs. One day the nation will wake up and abolish GP contracts and replace them with salaries.
Whilst there are valid points about cost and the time needed to make out such a report there are a number of points which I don't agree with. Use of a firearm to some is a requirement of their profession.
Many who shoot do so whilst conducting pest control, although unpaid this is a service to those whos land they carry out this activity on.
The quoted cost of cartridges is inaccurate to the extent of being comical. If that was the cost I'd be unable to afford to shoot.
All that said, where there is a cost for a service it should be agreed with all parties. I hope the BMA is in constructive conversation with all parties to ensure this is achieved, not taking a GPs time away from their patients and practice work at an unrecoverable cost.
Thank you for your work. Really helpful.
When the "nation wakes up" as one contributor below suggests, and makes GP salaried, it will suddenly discover that it needs about 70% more GPs to do the present workload and it will cost the nation considerably more than the present arrangements! In the meantime, if you want me to do extra work that is non-contracted, then I will charge a fee that reflects the time I spend, - usually after 22.00 after a full working day, as another contributor suggests.
For the uninitiated, please be aware that the BMA exists for the good and benefit of medical practitioners - not for shooters, the police or the public at large. "The British Medical Association (BMA) is the trade union and professional body for doctors in the UK. " For all you happy commuters on Southern Rail they're the RMT of the doctors world!
Mark's piece is riddled with inaccuracies, misrepresentations and partial truths - and I am disinclined to deconstruct his blog line by line. However, I would point out that "to carry a weapon is a criminal offence" is laughably incorrect ... Mark's obvious unfamiliarity with the subject calls into question his competence to draft any sort of guidelines or advise on the matter in hand.
He does reference firearms 'certificates' and goes on to draw comparisons with a private pilot's licence and HGV licensing. He would do well to review the differences, in law, between the two types documents. This whole fandango has been initiated in the name of 'public safety' so there is a strong counter arguement that any costs should be borne by the public purse.
The idea that a GP, lacking in any specialist psychiatric diagnostic capability, should be required to sign off on an individual's suitability to have access to a shotgun or other firearm is ludicrous. The BMA should have kicked it into touch when it was first mentioned.
As for all you poor sods struggling to deliver Primary Care, I can only agree it's a dog's breakfast. Clearly it needs better funding, but that's no reason to gouge money from the shooting community. Just return the form from the police stating you have nothing to say on the matter.
Very helpful article, setting the context of what GP's were assumed they would just manage to get on with, at no extra cost to anybody! Surprisingly aggressive responses- not conducive to getting GP's to swallow up even more work when there is no time for it; the detail required on the Constabulary's form is potentially very extensive, not just yes/no to a question of concern, as it had been in the past. Thanks to the BMA for taking this seriously.
As a BMA member and a clay shooter I can see the problems from both sides. However I must point out that a box of 250 12 bore shotgun cartridges cost about £45 to £50, not £500. When my shotgun certificate came up for renewal I wrote to my doctor and enclosed the medical form from Police Scotland and firstly gave written consent to disclose medical information and secondly said that this was not NHS work and I would expect to be charged a fee for the report. The report I sent in from Police Scotland was a single page form asking about the presence of certain medical conditions.
Also, there are shotgun certificates and firearms licences - but no such thing as a "firearms certificate". Several of the comments below are completely inaccurate and reveal a lack of knowledge and understanding of the subject.
What about my ingrown toenail? Will this affect the renewal of my SGC?
Well, he has his colours firmly nailed to the mast. More often than not, the 'chair' or 'lead' in any group of this kind is supposed to be neutral. Law abiding shooters have just suffered from one instance where this was patently not the case and by the look of it, they could well suffer another.
I have several times in the past had my GP for NO FEE sign the declaration on my renewal and to use his own words "no problem" so what has changed. After all once a letter has been dictated it can be used as a template so to ask for anything more than the price of a cheap bub meal for 2 mins work is robbery. Oh and by the way £500 buys 2500 - 3000 cartridges ( I have just paid £137 for 1000 ) so yet again some dimwit lying in an attempt to justify the unreasonable charge.
What also needs to be remembered is that the applicant is not the person requesting the report, it's the Police. If there is no issue with the health or wellbeing of the applicant, then surley a generic Email/letter where you change the date and name will suffice, two minutes work done. How can some GPs justify a fee for this?
Correction to the above statement from somebody who participates in shooting sports both rifle and shotgun, there is no such thing as a Firearms License! It is a Firearms Certificate, it says as much on the top left hand side of the front page of a Firearms Certificate. Can those who participate in Shooting sports make sure they fact check their statements when they are berating others for lack of specialist knowledge or understanding.
The issue for people who participate in shooting sports is:
1) We already pay a fixed fee to the Police when we apply or renew our Shotgun or Firearm certificates
2) The fee we are now being asked to pay by our GP is on top of what we are asked to pay to the Police to process our Firearm or Shotgun certificate
3) The fee we are being asked to pay by our GP is not fixed and appears to be down to the whim of that particular practice
4) I appreciate that a GP might have a conscientious objection to guns but that does not matter one iota to me, shooting sports are not illegal in this country. If I am of sound body and mind, have completed the correct paperwork, paid whatever fees I am required why should my application for issue or renewal be prevented because of your PERSONAL hang ups
5) If your personal hang ups on the matter are so strong that you can't bring yourself to return a letter even with a payment simply stating "I have no issue with the application" then the onus should be on you the GP to pass the paperwork to another GP who can sign that piece of paper and not further impede me going about my lawful business
6) We are not asking GP to do this, the Police are. As mentioned we pay the Police already to process our applications for issue or renewal, the fee we pay them is laid out and fixed. The fee our GP is asking us to pay is not fixed, how can that be seen to be fair? If we are to pay a fee direct to our GP then it should be properly debated and a fixed fee accepted by all parties involved and implemented