The Lincolnshire Local Medical Committee have backed down over a misleading letter, but the Countryside Alliance is raising concerns over future firearms licensing developments in the county.
A member in Lincolnshire told the Alliance that they had received a letter from their GP asking them to pay £90 for the initial medical check that is now part of the shotgun and firearm certificate application and renewal process. This check is supposed to be free, and the Alliance has dealt with many such enquiries since the new system came into force. This one, however, was different, and not only because of the large amount of money being requested.
This letter concluded by informing our member: “If we [the GP] do not receive your consent, and the fee, within seven days of this letter, we will write to the police to inform them that we are unable to examine your medical records for the purposes of providing information in relation to firearm licensing. We will state in this letter that they should assume that you have a condition which would prevent you from holding a licence.”
The Alliance responded to this appalling letter immediately threatening legal action, pointing out that the GPs appeared to intend to mislead the police by insinuating the existence of a medical condition with no evidence of such a condition being established. We further highlighted the fact that the Home Office Guidance on this issue is clear- if a GP does not provide the requested initial check within 21 days, the licensing authorities are to assume there are no concerns, not assume there is a problem as the GP’s letter had suggested.
We were stunned to learn from the surgery in question that they were following advice from their Local Medical Committee (LMC), the local representative body for the NHS, and that the mendacious letter they had sent was in fact a template available to all Lincolnshire GPs.
Following our complaint, the Lincolnshire LMC have now changed their advice to their GPs. While they still say GPs should charge for the initial report, they now accept that non-payment is not a barrier to the application or renewal progressing.
This is good news for the legal shooting community of Lincolnshire, however a statement that has appeared on the Lincolnshire LMC website is cause for serious concern, and the Countryside Alliance will be acting swiftly.
The statement reads: “Lincolnshire Police are intent on implementing a policy where no licences are granted or renewed without a medical report being available… With this proposed change in mind, the police have asked that the LMC recommend a fee for the initial report which they request, so that this fee can be outlined to applicants in the application paperwork. This has been discussed by the LMC committee and a fee of £40-50 plus VAT has been suggested as a reasonable fee for the initial factual report.”
The statement indicates an early-2018 implementation date. Any such action would directly contravene Home Office Guidance, showing just how much pressure the LMC are applying to Lincolnshire Police.
The Countryside Alliance will be contacting the Lincolnshire Chief Constable and Police and Crime Commissioner, as well as officials in the Home Office, to seek clarification on these plans and ensure that our members in Lincolnshire are not disadvantaged by an uneven application of the law. It simply cannot be right that applicants in Lincolnshire are charged for a service that is provided for free in all surrounding counties.
Background and Context
A new medical procedure entered into force 1 April 2016 which resulted in the continuous monitoring of health issues for firearms licence holders. The new system makes it possible for GPs to alert the police to any relevant medical conditions as they arise during the lifetime of a certificate, as it required GPs to perform an initial check on an applicant’s medical history and apply a marker to their records.
This new medical procedure did not change the ‘medical issues of concern’, but aimed to forge a closer partnership between GPs and police forces which would be a benefit to the public and the shooting community.
The Countryside Alliance was part of the Medical Evidence Working Group (MEWG) that formulated these procedures along with other stakeholders including the Home Office and the British Medical Association (BMA). The MEWG agreed that there would be no charge for the initial check, but that any subsequent further medical checks would incur a fee.
Hopes for the success of the new procedure were dashed when in June 2016 the BMA contradicted the position it had taken on the MEWG and advised their GP members to either claim ‘a conscientious objection to gun ownership’ or charge their patients a fee at their discretion for the initial check. Whilst the medical procedure stated that there was ‘no expectation of a fee’ the BMA stated that it was in each practice’s right to request a fee.
The Alliance raised this issue with the BMA and the Home Office, but so far our requests to reform the MEWG to address these failings have not been heeded.
In the 18 months since the introduction of the new medical procedure, the Countryside Alliance have dealt with hundreds of members confused and upset with the way they are being treated by their GPs. Police Scotland, who are in charge of firearms licensing across the whole of Scotland, have disregarded the Home Office Guidance and demand applicants pay their GPs for the initial check before moving forward with the process. However, in England and Wales, police forces have kept to the letter of the Home Office Guidance, which clearly states that if a GP refuses to undertake this check due to non-payment of this fee, or for any other reason, the licensing authorities are to assume there are no concerns. This position returns the licensing system to where it was pre-April 2016, with none of the improvements the MEWG attempted to implement.
To date, we have heard of GP’s invoices ranging from £40-£200, and a variety of strange requests from GPs in an apparent attempt to extort money from applicants. The events in Lincolnshire are the latest in a long list of such examples.
The Alliance is calling for the MEWG is re-established so work can begin on a medical process that works for all stakeholders, as the system is clearly not working.