Last reviewed 31 July 2019

The Government has set out in a consultation proposed changes to firearm rules that make it clear that responsibility for obtaining and checking medical information about applicants for a certificate will sit with the police.

The plans include an update to the guidance to say that "the police should not grant certificates in the absence of medical information and the police will be under a duty to have regard to the guidance".

This follows observations that, currently, there are some instances where firearms licences are awarded without information about whether an applicant is considered medically fit to hold one because, where GPs do not respond to a request for information from the police, "often police assume there is no medical condition".

The risk assessment states: "The intended effect is that the police grant firearms certificates only after consideration of medical information. The objective is to reduce the risk that unsuitable individuals possess firearms and therefore improve public safety."

From 1 April 2016, new information sharing processes between GPs and the police were introduced in an attempt to ensure those licensed to possess firearms and shotgun certificates are medically fit to carry arms. A safer system for firearms licensing was introduced in England and Wales, while Northern Ireland and Scotland were subject to separate legislations.

GP practices across Britain will be able to charge for providing the firearms licence application information, under the plans. A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) risk assessment said the changes could result in GP practices receiving around £43 million a year across England, Scotland and Wales for their role in the process. At the moment, GP practices are charging a fee that averages around £51 for supplying medical information for a firearms application.

Current British Medical Association (BMA) guidance on completing license applications states that the GP must consider the extent of the report requested and decide if it falls within the scope of their medical knowledge and experience. It suggests that some reports may seek an opinion that is better provided by an expert in that field, and that declining to provide a report for this reason is in line with doctors’ professional obligations as set out in the General Medical Council's (GMC’s) "Good Medical Practice" guidance, which states that GPs must recognise and work within the limits of their competence.

The BMA has been communicating its position to the Home Office on GPs issuing firearms reports. The association understands a balance should be achieved between the public interest, medico-legal risks to doctors and those who wish to have access to firearms

Critically, the BMA has been clear that responsibility for assessing the risk presented by those with access to firearms rests exclusively with the police and is "not a role for doctors". The BMA has also been clear that any use of medical flags does not mean doctors have an active duty to monitor the health of those who have access to firearms.

BMA General Practitioners' (GPC) Committee Deputy Chair Mark Sanford-Wood said in a BMA blog earlier this year: "There is still a considerable amount of work needed to bring us to a point where we have a unified national licensing system into which medical evidence fits seamlessly. A system that protects public and doctors alike. But the dialogue has begun."

The consultation, "Statutory Guidance to Police on Firearms Licensing - Government Consultation", ends on 17 September 2019 and is available here.