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Medical involvement in firearms licensing – policy updates

Introduction

When you apply for the grant or renewal of a shotgun or firearm certificate in England, Wales or Scotland you are legally required to declare any relevant medical conditions on the application form submitted to the police. In Northern Ireland a similar medical declaration is required for firearm certificate applications under a separate legislative system. In all four countries it is an offence to make a false declaration about relevant medical conditions.

Since Spring 2016 medical involvement in firearms licensing has diverged significantly with Police Scotland operating its own system and police forces in England and Wales operating a different system. In further developments Lincolnshire Police, Merseyside Police and Kent Police have unilaterally implemented new medical record check polices.

The aim of this webpage is to provide an overview of what we are doing to find solutions to the problems we are facing in relation to medical involvement in firearms licensing. Use the tabs from this webpage to find the latest updates on this topic for Scotland, England & Wales, Lincolnshire, Merseyside and Kent.

What’s our position?

We want an efficient, cost-effective, robust system of firearms licensing that protects public safety and provides excellent service to the shooting community.

We believe that all parties in the licensing process in England, Wales and Scotland should have statutory duties and must include GPs.

What are we doing?

We are holding meetings with Ministers, policy advisors and MPs to raise our concerns about problems with the firearms licensing system.  This has included two meetings with Nick Hurd MP, the Home Office Minister responsible for firearms licensing.

We are challenging Lincolnshire Police, Merseyside Police and Kent Police on their unilateral medical record check policies. These policies have not been properly consulted on and therefore their effectiveness and impact on existing and potential certificate holders has not been fully considered.  We have sent briefing letters to all BASC members in Lincolnshire, Merseyside and Kent. We have written to the Chief Constable, Police and Crime Commissioner and local MPs in Lincolnshire, Merseyside and Kent requesting meetings to discuss our concerns about whether these policies are evidence based or proportionate. Meetings with Lincolnshire Police and Kent Police are scheduled to take place. Merseyside Police’s Chief Constable is refusing to correspond any further with us.

Whilst we are currently focused on political action we reserve the right to take legal action as and when appropriate.

We are continuing to help individual members that seek our advice on all aspects of firearms licensing across the UK through our country and regional teams and our specialist eight person firearms team based at BASC Head Office.

What have we done?

Since 2016 we have lobbied the Home Office to find solutions to the problems we are facing in relation to medical involvement in firearms licensing. This has involved six ministerial meetings with the three different policing ministers who have been responsible since 2016; interrupted by a referendum and a general election; and meetings with civil servants and briefing meetings with MPs.

Our concerns have also been raised through The British Shooting Sports Council (BSSC), of which BASC is a member, and through the All Party Parliamentary Group on Shooting and Conservation (APPG), for which BASC provides the secretariat. We have lobbied for a statutory duty on GPs and for the Home Office guidance to be observed.

Since 2016 we have sought individual cases which could be used for a legal challenge in Scotland but have been unable to find a case for litigation.

In October 2017, we began to challenge Lincolnshire Police amid concerns that they were working with Lincolnshire Medical Council (LMC) to unilaterally implement a new medical record check policy. We also began lobbying the Home Office for the Medical Evidence Working Group to be reconvened.

In March 2018, we publically challenged the Home Office after being informed in a meeting with Minister of State at the Home Office, Nick Hurd MP, that they were planning to renege on the 2016 Home Office Medical Evidence Working Group agreement; and require every applicant for the grant or renewal of a shotgun or firearm certificate in England and Wales to consult their GP and pay a fee.

In April 2018, we consulted Alan Maclean the leading QC in the field when Lincolnshire Police declared a new medical checks policy. The QC’s advice was that political action was the better route in the short term. We reserve the right to take legal action as and when appropriate.

In April 2018, APPG Chairman Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP sent a briefing letter to 135 supportive MPs. Our Chairman, Chief Executive and political team met the APPG to discuss the way forward. MPs were bullish about their ability to change the Home Office line and achieve a workable and reasonable system acceptable to the shooting community.

How can I help?

There is understandably significant misinformation and confusion around this complex issue. You can help by sharing this webpage with your friends and contacts.

If you live in Lincolnshire, Merseyside or Kent please write to your MP to raise your concerns.

We want to hear from all members who have experienced problems with medical involvement in firearms licensing. This will help us find solutions to these problems.

Click here to contact the firearms team.

This webpage will be updated with our latest work on this issue.

If you have any comments on this briefing click here to email us.

Last updated 3 August 2018.

On 29 March 2016, changes were made to the firearms licensing process operating in Scotland in relation to medical declarations.

These changes were based on an agreement reached between representatives from Police Scotland, the Scottish Government and GPs. This agreement was reached without formal consultation with representatives of shooting organisations.

The revised system is fully outlined in a 2016 Police Scotland/Scottish Government communication ‘Information sharing requirements between police and GPs for grant/renewal of firearms/shotgun certificates’.

Under the revised Scottish system, upon receiving an application, the police write to the applicant’s GP asking the GP if the patient suffers from any relevant medical conditions (as listed in the letter) that could affect their ability to possess a gun safely. The GP is also requested to put an encoded reminder on certificate holders’ medical notes in case relevant medical conditions should arise during the life of the certificate.

The police will not progress an application without confirmation from the applicant’s GP (or another GP) that the applicant’s medical record has been checked and that the applicant does not suffer from any relevant medical condition that might affect their suitability to possess firearms or shotguns.

The 2016 Police Scotland/Scottish Government communication states that there is no expectation of a fee being charged by GPs for the initial check of the patient record in response to the standard police letter. The communication also states that an applicant should not be disadvantaged, nor the application delayed, by a GP’s refusal to provide medical information.

Problems with the revised Scottish system arose early on as some GPs declared conscientious objection or claimed that they were not sufficiently qualified. Many GPs started charging fees as high as £200.

Significant progress has been made since 2016 with the majority of GPs now participating in the revised system. There is still a problem with variation in the fees being charged by GPs. A 2017 BASC survey indicates that the average fee being charged by GPs is £40.

Click here for the 2016 Police Scotland/Scottish Government communication ‘Information sharing requirements between police and GPs for grant/renewal of firearms/shotgun certificates’.

This webpage will be updated with any new developments for Scotland.

If you have any comments on this briefing click here to email us.

Last updated 25 May 2018.

On 1 April 2016, changes were made to the firearms licensing process operating across 43 police forces in England and Wales in relation to medical declarations.

These changes were based on an agreement reached by the Home Office Medical Evidence Working Group consisting of representatives of the Home Office, police, GPs and shooting organisations. The revised system is fully outlined in the 2016 Home Office Guide on Firearms Licensing Law.

Under the revised English/Welsh system the police would only write to the applicant’s GP after the grant of a firearm or shotgun certificate asking the GP if the patient suffered from any relevant medical conditions (as listed in the letter) that could affect their ability to possess a gun safely. The police letter included a pro-forma to be completed by the GP and sent back to the police.  GPs were also requested to put an encoded reminder on certificate holders’ medical notes in case relevant medical conditions should arise during the life of the certificate.

A response from the GP was requested to be sent to the police within 21 days confirming that the applicant’s medical record has been checked and that the applicant did not suffer from any relevant medical condition that might affect their suitability to possess firearms or shotguns.  If the police did not receive any response from an applicant’s GP after 21 days this would not impact on the applicant as the certificate had already been granted.

The 2016 Home Office guidance stated that there was no expectation of a fee being charged by GPs for the initial check. The guidance also stated that an applicant should not be disadvantaged, nor the application delayed, by a GP’s refusal to provide medical information.

However, some GPs refused to take part and others started charging patients fees for taking part. Shooting organisations reacted to this by urging applicants not to pay GPs.

In September 2016, a change was made to the National Firearms Licensing Management System (NFLMS) whereby the police letter to the applicant’s GP was automatically sent on receipt of the application, rather than after the grant of the certificate.

Problems continue with GPs requesting payments from patients on receipt of the initial letter from the police, and some applicants are paying GPs those fees in the mistaken belief that their application will not progress unless the GP responds to the police. Anecdotal evidence is that some GPs are charging fees up to £250.

Problems also continue with GPs refusing to take part for various reasons including conscientious objection and lack of medical expertise.

Further issues are also adding to problems and confusion on this topic.

The 1st April 2016, Home Office Guidance has not been updated to account for the September 2016 changes to NFMLS.

Since 2017, the BMA has been recommending GPs against placing encoded reminders on patients’ medical notes, due to the imprecise nature of flags, the lack of clear protocols for their appropriate removal and the absence of reliable software to facilitate the surveillance and cross-referencing of flags with diagnoses of concern.

Click here for the 2016 Home Office Guide on Firearms Licensing Law.

This webpage will be updated with any new developments for England and Wales.

If you have any comments on this briefing click here to email us.

Last updated 25 May 2018.

In April 2018, Lincolnshire Police declared a new medical record checks policy on its website.

Under this policy Lincolnshire Police will not issue any certificates until the applicant’s GP has responded to the initial police letter to confirm the medical declaration made by the applicant.

In guidance issued under this policy Lincolnshire Police advises applicants to contact their GP surgery to ensure they will release medical information to verify the declaration about medical conditions made in the application.

This change in policy applies to all new applications from 4 April 2018 and for all renewals from 1 August 2018 onwards.

This announcement included a statement from Lincolnshire Medical Council that a reasonable GP fee for this work would be in the region of £40-50 plus VAT.

We understand that Lincolnshire Police have since written to every GP surgery requesting that they take part in the new medical checks policy and to charge a fee of no more than £40.

This change in policy will affect around 18,000 firearm and shotgun certificate holders.

Click here for Lincolnshire Police medical record checks guidance.

BASC has sent a briefing letter to all its members in Lincolnshire.

 

BASC is meeting with Lincolnshire Police on 9 August.

This webpage will be updated with any new developments for Lincolnshire.

If you have any comments on this briefing click here to email us.

Last updated 3 August 2018.

In May 2018, Merseyside Police declared a new medical record checks policy on its website.

Under this policy Merseyside Police stated that all application forms for the grant and renewal of a firearm/shotgun certificate must be accompanied by a letter from the applicant’s GP; and that Merseyside Police will not consider the issue of certificates until the applicant’s GP has responded.

Merseyside Police has informed us that they will accept a copy of the applicant’s medical records in the event that a GP will not provide a letter.

This change in policy applies to all new applications from 1 May 2018 and for all renewals from 1 August 2018 onwards.

In the announcement it is stated that some GPs will charge for verifying applicant’s medical information, but the decision to charge is a matter for the applicant’s GP.

This change in policy will affect around 4,500 firearm and shotgun certificate holders.

Click here for Merseyside Police medical record checks policy guidance

BASC has sent a briefing letter to all its members in Merseyside.

 

On 19 July we were informed by Merseyside Police’s chief constable that he will not be entering into any further correspondence with BASC on this matter.

This webpage will be updated with any new developments for Merseyside.

If you have any comments on this briefing click here to email us.

Last updated 19 July 2018.

On 31 May 2018, Kent Police declared a new medical record check policy on its website.

Under this policy Kent Police has stated that every person who applies for a new firearm, shotgun or explosives licence will be required to provide medical information verified by a GP; that they will not progress any applications received without the required medical verification; and that some GPs may charge for this service, which is payable by the applicant.

In the online guidance a template letter for applicants to send to their GP has been provided.

This change in policy applies to all new applications from 31 May 2018 and for all renewals from 1 October 2018 onwards.

This change in policy will affect around 26,000 firearm and shotgun certificate holders.

Click here for Kent Police’s medical record check policy guidance

On 1 June two documents were emailed by Kent Police to all registered firearms dealers and all target shooting club secretaries within the force area. These documents are a flowchart of Kent Police’s new firearms licensing process; and a flowchart of the applicant’s responsibilities during the new process. Both documents incorporate the new medical record check policy.

 

BASC has sent a briefing letter to all its members in Kent.

 

BASC is meeting with Kent Police on 6th August.

This webpage will be updated with any new developments for Kent.

If you have any comments on this briefing click here to email us.

Last updated 3 August 2018.

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