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British Medical Association makes U-turn on licence fees

Shooting groups have accused the doctors’ trade union of trying to profit at the expense of the shooting community by withholding service

GP with patient

The BMA is advising GPs not to add encoded reminders to shooters' medical records

The British Medical Association (BMA) has advised GPs not to provide shooters’ medical information to the police without a fee and suggested that it is acceptable to withhold the service on ethical grounds.

The new encoded reminder system was introduced in April. It requires GPs to provide the police with any information suggesting an applicant should not be in possession of a gun and add a permanent marker to their medical records. This service was agreed by a Home Office working group, including BMA representatives, to be provided without charge, unless the police require further medical involvement. But last month, BASC was forced to advise shooters not to pay a fee, after receiving complaints from members that they had been charged by their GPs.

The BMA has now issued new guidance advising GPs to refuse the work, suggesting they return the initial police letter without the medical information requested, explaining they are unable to undertake the work due to “a lack of funding or for a conscientious objection to gun ownership”.

“Home Office guidance is not an optional extra”

BASC chairman Peter Glenser commented: “It is not the place of the BMA to alter guidance given out by the Home Office. A lengthy, professional process of engagement took place and all parties signed up to the outcome.

“Now, some months after the door of the meeting room was locked shut for the last time and the lights switched off, the BMA wants to scribble its own changes between the paragraphs. This is simply not acceptable. This Home Office guidance is not an optional extra; it applies to doctors as much as the police. Applicants for certificates should continue to follow the guidance as given by the Home Office.”

BASC further noted that the BMA’s new guidance contradicts its final stance reached during the working group sessions. Minutes of the group’s last meeting record Dr John Canning, chair of the BMA’s professional fees committee, as confirming that he was “content that the expectation would be there would be no fee levied by GPs in response to the initial police letter”.

A Countryside Alliance spokesman suggested the BMA’s new stance could put the public in danger in return for profit. “The guidance stating that the ‘applicants are not expected to pay’ for the preliminary report was originally agreed by the BMA,” he said. “They have now radically changed their position in what seems to be a selfish attempt at lining their members’ pockets at the cost of the shooting community, and in doing so could be placing the public at risk by using the new medical format as a bargaining chip.

“The BMA comment regarding returning the letter because of a ‘conscientious objection to gun ownership’ is an absolute disgrace — the suggestion that medical staff can withhold a public service because they disagree with someone’s lifestyle choice sets a very dangerous precedent,” he continued.

The new BMA guidance only relates to the initial letter, which asks GPs to add a marker to the patient record, not a police request for a full report, for which an applicant was already expected to pay. The BMA also acknowledges that despite its recommendation, some GPs may still choose to participate in the process.