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After talks between the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the British Medical Association (BMA), GPs have agreed to breach their duty of confidentiality to gun-owning patients.

Doctors have agreed to tell the police if they believe that a gun-owner?s mental health has deteriorated to the extent that they have become a danger to themselves or the public.

In a statement, the BMA said: ?Where doctors know that a patient has a firearm and, in their view, presents a risk of harm to themselves or others this information can be disclosed without consent.?

In another controversial move, all medical records of patients holding firearms licences could be ?flagged? as part of the agreement.

The BMA indicated that it did not want doctors to be made responsible for revoking firearms certificates.

However, firearms guidance advises police to revoke a licence if a doctor declares the holder unsafe.

BASC?s Simon Clarke expressed concern the agreement would lead to gun owners with a record of any mental health problem having their firearms certificate withdrawn.

He said: ?If it became a default position that any mental health issue causes your licence to be revoked, that would be a potential danger.?

He went on to link the announcement with the recent killings by Derrick Bird, saying: ?The issue of flagging medical records has become more prominent after the Cumbria murders.?

No evidence has emerged that Bird had declared any health problems before his rampage, nor did the respective inquiries into the Hungerford and Dunblane massacres suggest that doctors were made aware that the perpetrators were suffering from ill health.

Currently the law requires an applicant for a firearms licence to declare whether they have any health problems affecting their fitness to hold a gun licence and give permission for police to approach their doctor in these circumstances.

ACPO has been calling for a change to this guidance since the case in Shropshire of Christopher Foster who shot his wife and daughter before setting fire to their house and dying in the blaze in 2008.

Foster had told his GP he felt suicidal.

BASC, which has been involved in discussions with both ACPO and the BMA on this issue for some time, will argue for an appeals system in the event of the agreement being finalised.

Simon Clarke said: ?If an agreement of this kind were reached we would want to see a clearly mapped out mechanisim for appeal for anyone whose licence was revoked on the grounds that a GP declared them unsafe.

It is important to stress, however, that at this stage the agreement is by no means a done deal.?

Tim Bonner, of the CA, said: ?Linking the diagnosis of serious mental problems with the suspension of a firearms licence would be in the interests of the public and the shooting community.?

He added: ?Rejecting any such proposal out of hand would be unwise.?

During discussions doctors voiced fears that an agreement could deter gun owners who were suffering mental illness from seeking medical help and that it constituted a breach of their fundamental duty of confidentiality as well.

Practical problems with the scheme also remain.

Police are concerned about the security of information on gun-holding patients and there are fears that criminals might exploit flagged medical records to access firearms.

Further negotiations between ACPO and the BMA are planned but it is not known when the agreement will be finalized.

Talk to other readers about doctors and police sharing records without patients’ consent.

  • Mark Green

    This doesn’t address the possibility that a memeber of a gun holder’s familly could have a mental breakdown and gain access to the firearms legally held by their Wife / Husband / Father etc…

    Does that mean that every familly member of a license holder should have their records flagged ?..

    It’s a tough call, but we all have to recognise that something has to change if we are going to be able to carry on with the sport that we all enjoy..

  • Ash Nicholls

    My concern with this proposal is that it will fail to address the key problem and, indeed, may actually exacerbate it.

    Given the existing certificate requires that an applicant identifies any treatment for mental-health related issues and gives permission for the police to approach the GP, it is difficult to see where the advantage of flagging records would lie. The GP will know that the patient holds or wishes to hold firearms as soon as the enquiry letter arrives from the police . If applied correctly, the existing system is fairly effective.

    There is a very real risk that, by further stigmatising mental health and gun ownership (since this proposal would seem to suggest that the two are an automatic recipe for disaster, despite the fact that the article points out that all three spree-killers mentioned had no obvious history of treatment for mental health problems), any gain would be seriously marred by the number of people who became reluctant to seek help for entirely manageable problems due to a concern that they might find themselves beeing treated with prejudice.

    At the end of the day, individuals seeking help for depression etc. are much less likely to be a risk to society than those individuals who refuse to acknowledge a problem, self-medicate with alcohol etc. etc. GPs will have regular contact with the former. The latter will remain outside of the proposed system and very little will have changed other than to make life a little more difficult for people who are honestly dealing with problems that, according to many surveys, 1 in 4 of us will suffer within our lifetime.

  • John Hughes

    I am a shotgun certificate holder and also a GP.
    Of course we must do all we can in the medical profession to prevent events such as Cumbria.
    However, there is a very difficult matter of confidentiality to consider.
    Does this automatically mean that a shooter waives his/her right to confidentiality ?
    This is clearly unacceptable.
    However, on a very simple note, all doctors abide by the Hippocratic Oath. In essence we must “do no harm”. This can be to the individual patient, or the population as a whole. On this basis, there is certainly room for releasing confidential information if it was relevant.
    But, I think the balance between these extremes needs very careful evaluation as it does not seem entirely reasonable that a patient’s medical records should even include the fact that a patient is a licence holder. There is certainly nothing to say this in most people’s records, as it is not a medical condition to want to shoot ! The Police would have to inform all GPs of when a licence was issued, renewed or revoked. This simply does not happen at the moment.