Firearms – Requests From Police for Medical Information in Relation to Firearms Certification.
New statutory guidance around firearms licensing for chief officers of Police that was issued on 1st November. Following the publication of this guidance applicants are now required, at their own expense, to obtain a medical report as part of this new application process.
It is now the responsibility of the applicant for both grant, renewal, or variation to complete a medical proforma (usually downloaded from the local Police firearms licensing website) and submit this to their GP.
We welcome the fact that here is now standardised national guidance in place to ensure more consistent processes for the police, medical professionals and applicants. It ensures that no one is granted a firearms certificate unless their regular GP, or a suitably qualified alternative doctor with access to the full medical record, has confirmed to the police whether they have any relevant medical conditions. This includes any mental health conditions.
Wessex LMCs believes that GPs have a professional and moral duty to protect the public by facilitating the Police with the firearms licensing process, as existing health issues have been implicated in several fatal shootings involving individuals holding firearms certificates. The Plymouth shootings have crystalised this view.
The 2021 statutory guidance and the arrangements for medical checks for applications reflects the BMA’s significant contribution to its development.
Practices are entitled to follow the guidance issued by the BMA (which has been updated in light of the new Statutory guidance for Police officers issued on 1st November), and as this work falls outside of their NHS contractual obligations, practices may charge a reasonable fee for providing medical information to support an application.
The BMA also advises that practices may decline to provide a report. “GPs can refuse to engage in the firearms certification process on grounds of conscientious objection because of religious or ethical beliefs. They must inform the police.
Legal opinion is that a GP who refuses to engage on these grounds should have due regard to the GMC guidance. Although, this guidance is primarily written for the purposes of referral for procedures, treatments and interventions rather than the compilation of a medical report.
GPs need to take reasonable steps to notify their patients of their conscientious objection in advance. We would advise doctors to put a clear statement on their website and on notices in the practice.
In the BMA’s view, conscientious objectors do not need to arrange for alternative provision of a report.
Where access to a firearm is a professional requirement, we would encourage doctors to assist applicants in finding a colleague who is a GMC-registered doctor to help.”
Practices are asked to place a ‘flag’ in the patient record to identify the patient as the holder of a firearms license. The Home Office has signed an agreement with the BMA to provide greater legal protection for GPs who choose to place a firearms flag on the medical record, noting that the legal liability to monitor suitability for certificate holding rests with the constabulary and not with the GP holding a medical record with a flag on it.
The new statutory guidance for chief officers of Police issued on 1st November addresses concerns that Wessex LMCs have been raising for a while in that it is now clear that Police cant issue firearms certificates without a completed medical form (whereas some forces have always assumed no returned form means no medical reason not to issue). The new guidance also clearly states that a suitably qualified GMC registered private clinician can complete the form for the patient (by requesting a copy of the patients GP record on behalf of the patient) so there is room for conscientious objectors and you can decline to complete the form and signpost to a private GP service or similar. When the medical information is being provided to the police by a doctor who is not the GP of the applicant, the doctor must receive the applicant’s full medical record direct from the GP practice and not via the applicant.
It also reaffirms that GPs can charge prior to completing the report. It is up to you to decide what a ‘reasonable’ charge is. It is also clear that the GP isn’t giving an opinion as to whether a licence should be issued, this responsibility remains entirely with the police.