THE PRICE OF SHOOTING IS SET TO INCREASE ONCE AGAIN after the Home Office u-turned on its 2016 undertaking not to charge shotgun and firearms certificate applicants for a medical report.
And the Home Office is not proposing to put proper checks in place on the work GPs are doing for this fee – meaning shooters could see their application fee for a grant or renewal increase by more than half, and get no benefit from the extra outlay.
On 27 March, Nick Hurd, the minister responsible for firearms licensing, told shooting organisation representatives that it would approve British Medical Association proposals to force every applicant pay a fee, representing a severe blow to the gun trade, and a victory for the BMA, which has been aggressively campaigning for extra charges since the current system was instated in 2016.
Then, the Home Office reached an agreement with doctors, shooting organisations and police that a routine medical report would become part of every shotgun or firearms certificate application; and that doctors should place a coded marker on patients’ medical records to signify that they are a gun owner. At the time, BASC hailed this as a sensible move to ensure continuing public safety.
Home Office guidance of April 2016 – still available on gov.uk at the time of going to press – says: “The application form for firearm certificates requires the applicant to give consent to the sharing of factual medical information between their General Practitioner (GP) and the police, both during the application process and following grant of the certificate while it remains valid.
“If the applicant has declared a relevant medical condition…the police may ask the applicant to obtain and pay for a medical report to assist with their consideration of medical suitability. The medical report should normally be provided to police within one month of the request. If a further medical report is required the police will pay for this.
“If the certificate holder does in fact suffer from a relevant medical condition or the GP has concerns about their access to firearms, the GP should contact the police by letter or email within 21 days of receiving the letter from the police. If the GP indicates that they have concerns or there are relevant issues but does not provide further details, then the police may request and pay for a medical report.”
The object of the 2016 guidelines was to ensure public safety standards were implemented consistently and not treated an an ‘optional extra’. However, its history to date makes for sorry reading, and it has suffered throughout from patchy implementation and outright non-compliance from GPs.
The BMA at one point advised its members that “you are entitled to charge the applicant a fee, and may withhold the report until the fee has been paid,” in direct contravention of the guidelines. BASC advised its members that they should not pay up in response to any demands.
Then, in October 2017, a Lincolnshire GP was caught demanding £90 to perform a medical check for a gun owner, saying if they weren’t paid, they would tell the police to “assume that you have a condition which would prevent you from holding a licence.” This GP was following advice from Lincolnshire LMC, using a template made available to all GPs in the area. The surgery reversed its position after it and LMC were reported to the Fitness to Practice Directorate of the General Medical Council.
Only two months later, Lincolnshire again adopted a hostile approach to the licensing process, with one of its representatives going on the BBC’s Countryfile programme to call for an additional fee: “GP time is very short. This work isn’t NHS work. We can’t be doing this work when we should be seeing our NHS patients.
“As soon as the guidelines came out, [the British Medical Association] were unhappy that we were not able to make a sensible charge for this service.” The BMA advised its members that they could apply pressure on the police by opting out of the procedure entirely and claiming a ‘conscientious objection’ to private gun ownership.
Now, it appears that policy-makers have caved in to that pressure, with shooting organisations labelling the latest move a ‘betrayal’ from those in power.
BASC’s director of communications, Christopher Graff ius, said: “This is an abandonment of risk management in the licensing system, may contravene Treasury rules and is completely disproportionate.
“These proposals will damage the relationship between the shooting community and the government. “An agreement was reached by all parties, including the doctors, who sat around the table for many, many hours before approving the licensing scheme in 2016.
“If these proposals are introduced without consultation, it will reflect badly on both the government and the medical profession and, in the eyes of the shooting community, erode confidence in both.”
And a Countryside Alliance spokesperson added: “The Home Office has given in to a campaign of non-compliance by some GPs and is proposing to force licensees to pay their GPs for a medical check during the application or renewal process, but is not yet proposing any process to ensure that GPs are in fact undertaking that work by placing a permanent marker on patients records to indicate that they are a gun owner.
“[This] will just perpetuate this chaotic situation and fails to address the fundamental issue of public safety improvements which this new system was designed to secure.” GTN