In an announcement this week, the Home Office has informed the Countryside Alliance, and other shooting organisations, that the Government has reneged on the agreement that was agreed in 2016 to deliver improved ongoing scrutiny of the health, including mental health, of gun owners.
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.
A new medical process was introduced to the firearms licensing system in 2016, following collaboration between the Home Office, shooting organisations, police and the medical profession. The new system was designed to improve an already safe licensing system, by asking GPs to undertake an initial check of an applicant’s medical records and to place a permanent marker on their records so if any relevant issues emerge with a patient the police can be notified.
This system encountered problems almost immediately as many GPs demanded unregulated fees to undertake the initial check or place markers on applicants’ records, or refused to participate in the process at all. The process descended into total chaos as the British Medical Association (BMA), which helped produce the new protocols, reversed its position and advised their members to deviate from the guidance they had helped to produce. The BMA even advises GPs on how to abandon the process altogether by claiming a conscientious objection to firearm ownership, and is telling GPs that even if they do succeed in extracting a fee from applicants they should not apply the marker to an applicant’s record.
The new proposal to enforce the charging of fees without any safeguards to ensure consistency 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.
The Countryside Alliance’s Chief Executive Tim Bonner said: “We will not accept any changes to the licensing system that do not include guarantees that GPs will deliver their part of the agreement. It is the behaviour of the BMA and some GPs which have compromised improvements to the licensing system that gun owners want implemented. The future engagement of GPs cannot be taken on trust.
“As it stands the Government’s proposal is completely unacceptable. It will not improve the effectiveness of the licensing system and no fee can reasonably be levied unless there is a system to guarantee that GPs will deliver the service paid for, that it is a one-off payment, and that continuous assessment leads to a cut in bureaucracy and a ten-year licensing period.”
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