GPs will not be held legally responsible for judging whether someone is suitable to possess a firearm or shotgun certificate, according to proposed new government guidance.
The Home Office has launched a consultation on statutory guidance which makes clear that legal responsibility rests “solely with the police”.
Under the guidelines, police in England, Scotland and Wales will be required to check the medical records of every person applying for a firearms licence. The move comes in response to findings by the independent police inspectorate, HMICFRS, that licensing practice across the country was inconsistent and that medical information was not being shared for firearms applications, creating a potential safety risk.
The Home Office has signed an agreement with the British Medical Association (BMA) that aims to improve cooperation between the police and GPs.
GPs are asked to provide information about whether firearms applicants have a history of relevant mental or physical conditions which could affect their safe possession of guns. They are also asked to put a firearms flag on patient records so that police can be alerted if a person develops a relevant medical condition after their licence has been issued.
The Home Office has worked with the medical profession to encourage doctors' use of the firearms flagging system and is looking at ways to widen the use of flags through a national IT system.
Minister for Policing and the Fire Service Nick Hurd said he was confident the proposals would tighten up the system without creating “unreasonable demands”. He added: "The bottom line is public safety. Firearms must only be in the hands of the most safe and responsible people. This is not something we are prepared to compromise on."
But the new guidance was described as “disappointing” by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, who fear gun owners could be faced with a £48 million bill for medical reports.
Bill Harriman, Director of Firearms at BASC, said: “The new proposals place no obligation on doctors and leave them to take part or not, to levy unreasonable charges or not, as they wish. There is absolutely no guidance in the consultation on a reasonable charging regime.”
He called for a statutory obligation on doctors to participate in the licensing process “in the interests of public safety”.
Currently, GPs are not contracted to complete firearms reports and have the right to charge a fee or to refuse to provide the service altogether. Refusal can be on the grounds of conscientious objection or because it falls outside their medical expertise.