GP Survival, a grassroots GP campaign group, warned that GPs should not be expected to approve firearms licenses for patients, and thereby be held responsible for ‘any harm which may befall anyone due to suicide or homicide on the part of the license holder’.
But the BMA’s latest support guide for the firearms licensing process, updated on Tuesday, states that ‘GPs must engage in the process of firearms licensing when requested to do so’, warning that failure to do so could place them at professional risk.
The BMA had previously recommended that GPs could return letters from the police asking about patients' medical fitness to hold a licence, explaining they were unable to take on the extra workload due to a lack of funding or because of a conscientious objection to gun ownership.
The change in stance comes after the union took into account regulations in the GMS contract that dictate GPs must ‘comply with all relevant legislation’.
‘This obliges GPs to co-operate with and agree to facilitate statutory processes in which they have a prescribed role or function,’ the BMA guidance says.
But it adds that GPs may still refuse to engage with the process if they do not receive a ‘reasonable fee’ in exchange for what is otherwise unfunded work.
If a GP has a genuine conscientious objection to approving a firearm license, they have a professional obligation to put in place alternative arrangements for the patient to have it approved 'without delay’, it adds.
GP Survival said there was no mention of medical professionals in the primary legislation of the Firearms Act 1968, arguing that responsibility for issuing licenses should lie entirely with the police.
The dispute follows changes made to the way firearms licenses were distributed in April this year, which were introduced to ensure people licensed to possess firearm and shotgun certificates are medically fit to do so.
The GP Survival Committee said in a statement: ‘We are deeply disappointed that our designated trade union has chosen to withdraw its previous guidance.
‘Not only does this leave individual GPs who adhered to previous guidance now potentially professionally vulnerable, but also completely undermines the perceived legitimacy of any guidance which is now issued by the BMA.
‘GP Survival’s position is that responsibility for issuing shotgun or firearm certificates, and for any ramifications of issuing, should rest wholly with the police. The role of GPs, if any, should be limited to a simple statement of fact, as to a patient’s past medical history at that moment in time, rather than an acceptance of responsibility for a real time update of that history into the future ad infinitum.
‘Moreover, as such a statement of fact falls outside the GMS contract, provision of such information should incur a fee appropriate for the clinical time needed to complete the form professionally. The responsibility as to whether a licence should be issued, and whether it should continue to be held, lies entirely with the police.
‘We consider this guidance absolutely unacceptable, in every possible way.’
A BMA spokeswoman said: ‘As outlined in our new guidance, GPs do have a legal obligation to engage with the statutory framework for the licensing of firearms.
‘The central role of the GP in raising any concerns about issuing a license remains in place. We remain seriously concerned about how this process has developed and the onerous responsibilities it places on GPs. We are continuing to raise these issues directly with the Home Office.’