COUN­TRY­SIDE AL­LIANCE

As GPs con­tinue to ig­nore agree­ments by de­mand­ing ex­tra fees in the li­cens­ing process, Jack Knott gives an up­date on what the Coun­try­side Al­liance is do­ing to rec­tify this on­go­ing is­sue

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

Iwrote last year about the Coun­try­side Al­liance’s con­cerns over the im­ple­men­ta­tion of new med­i­cal checks for those of us who own guns. In the in­ter­ven­ing pe­riod, the sit­u­a­tion has only got worse. We have re­ported on cases where GPs have at­tempted to black­mail firearms li­cence ap­pli­cants by threat­en­ing to tell the po­lice to as­sume that there was a med­i­cal prob­lem un­less an ex­or­bi­tant and un­jus­ti­fied fee was paid.

Mean­while, some po­lice forces in­clud­ing Scot­land, Lin­colnshire and Thames Val­ley are

‘If the govern­ment has cal­cu­lated that back­ing down to the BMA is the path of least re­sis­tance, it has got its sums wrong’

ig­nor­ing Home Of­fice guid­ance and re­fus­ing to is­sue li­cences if a GP does not re­spond to the sin­gle ques­tion of whether the ap­pli­cant has any his­tory of health prob­lems that might cause con­cern, even if that GP is de­mand­ing a huge fee or re­fuses to re­spond on the grounds of ‘con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tion’, which the Bri­tish Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion (BMA) has ad­vised doc­tors is ac­cept­able.

De­spite re­peated re­quests, the Home Of­fice’s min­is­ter with re­spon­si­bil­ity for firearms li­cens­ing, Nick Hurd, has re­fused to meet us. He has also re­fused to re­con­vene the Med­i­cal Ev­i­dence Work­ing Group, which agreed the process that has sub­se­quently been so widely ig­nored.

We now un­der­stand that the Home Of­fice may be about to at­tempt to im­pose a ‘so­lu­tion’ on gun own­ers in the form of a fee to GPs for re­spond­ing to the yes/no ques­tion about an ap­pli­cant’s health and adding a marker to med­i­cal records which the BMA had pre­vi­ously agreed would be done for free. This will pre­sum­ably be ac­com­pa­nied by a change in guid­ance to the po­lice, mak­ing it a re­quire­ment that an ap­pli­cant’s GP re­sponds be­fore a li­cence is is­sued.

Shoot­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions have never re­jected the pos­si­bil­ity of pay­ments to GPs, in­deed there was agree­ment that a fee would be en­tirely jus­ti­fied if the po­lice re­quest fur­ther in­for­ma­tion from an ap­pli­cant’s GP in the form of a re­port or let­ter. It is, how­ever, hard to un­der­stand how the ini­tial re­quest could be con­sid­ered as any­thing other than a pub­lic ser­vice.

This whole saga re­flects badly on the BMA which re­neged on its orig­i­nal agree­ment for rea­sons that seem to be as much about the wider pol­i­tics of its re­la­tion­ship with the govern­ment as they are about the li­cens­ing process. How­ever, if the govern­ment has cal­cu­lated that back­ing down to the BMA is the path of least re­sis­tance it has got its sums wrong.

The CA has been very clear that the li­cens­ing sys­tem must be fair and con­sis­tent. I would add to that by re­it­er­at­ing the most im­por­tant part of this whole dis­cus­sion: it must re­duce the like­li­hood of peo­ple with cur­rent men­tal health prob­lems hav­ing ac­cess to guns. That will not be achieved by im­pos­ing a charge for an ini­tial med­i­cal check un­less there are guar­an­tees that the marker is added to med­i­cal records to al­low for the con­tin­u­ous as­sess­ment of those of us who own guns. We be­lieve that at present some GPs are de­mand­ing a fee but not adding a marker thus ren­der­ing the process worth­less.

Like­wise, the govern­ment will have to ex­plain how it in­tends to en­sure that GPs com­ply with any agreed process. It cur­rently says that it has no con­trol over GPs be­cause firearms li­cens­ing is not part of the GP con­tract. If that is the case then even if a one-off fee is paid through the po­lice, and that is the only log­i­cal process, there would be noth­ing to stop a GP re­fus­ing to re­spond, or de­mand­ing a higher fee, or de­mand­ing mul­ti­ple fees dur­ing the life of the cer­tifi­cate.

If the govern­ment can come up with a so­lu­tion that re­quires GPs to re­spond and add the marker to med­i­cal records for a rea­son­able and uni­form fee, then we will, at least, have a sys­tem in which the health, in­clud­ing men­tal health, of gun own­ers is con­tin­u­ously as­sessed as was en­vis­aged by the Med­i­cal Ev­i­dence Work­ing Group.

GPs will be alerted to the fact that pa­tients own guns, and will be able to in­form the po­lice about se­ri­ous health prob­lems if they emerge. This should only re­quire a sin­gle ac­tion by GPs on ini­tial ap­pli­ca­tion, or first re­newal af­ter the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the new sys­tem.

The sys­tem of con­tin­u­ous as­sess­ment will also mean that the cur­rent five-year li­cense pe­riod could be ex­tended to 10 years, sig­nif­i­cantly re­duc­ing the bu­reau­cratic bur­den on po­lice forces. On these terms, we are will­ing to dis­cuss changes to the guid­ance, but the min­is­ter should be in no doubt that over 600,000 gun own­ers will not ac­cept any at­tempt to im­pose an un­fair and in­con­sis­tent process.

Some shoot­ers aren’t able to par­tic­i­pate in their sport due to li­cences be­ing with­held

Are fees for GP ap­proval about to be­come manda­tory?

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