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Police want to tag medical records of gun licence holders

The British Medical Association (BMA) and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) have revealed that they are currently discussing ways doctors can be made aware of patients who own firearms.

The discussions were prompted after Mid and North Shropshire coroner, John Ellery, recommended a closer link between the medical profession and firearms enquiry officers.

Mr Ellery recently conducted the inquest into the deaths of Christopher Foster, his wife Jill and their daughter Kirstie, in Shropshire.

Last August, Mr Foster shot his family before setting fire to their home in Maesbrook, near Oswestry, and shooting himself with a legally held .22 rifle.

It emerged at the inquest that Mr Foster had been suffering from depression and had mentioned suicidal thoughts to his GP.

A BMA spokesman explained the proposal to Shooting Times magazine: “Throughout 2009, the BMA has been involved in discussions with ACPO on the possibility of GPs placing electronic tags in medical records to indicate that the patient either held a firearms or shotgun licence or had applied for one.”

He added: “Updated ethical guidance from the BMA reflects our view that such a system can be appropriate, provided it is used as part of the ordinary care given to a patient. It can, for example, be a useful aide-memoire, to remind doctors that the patient has access to a firearm. Such a system should not, however, imply that GPs take on particular obligations to monitor or oversee the mental health of individuals holding firearms licences.”

Shooting organisations have dismissed the proposal.

BASC’s Bill Harriman, said the idea is a gross overreaction, given that there are so few incidents with lawfully owned firearms.

“I think the shooting community will be angered by this proposal, especially as the BMA has not discussed the concept with us.”

He said the shooting community is very wary of more red tape, and will see this as yet another infringement of its civil liberties. Mr Harriman also pointed out that someone might not seek help for depression or a related illness if they feared it might result in the loss of their certificate.

“The deaths of Christopher Foster, his wife and daughter are tragic, but these ill-considered proposals will not prevent similar incidents in the future,” he concluded.

A spokesman for ACPO sought to reassure concerned shooters: “ACPO and the BMA have been exploring a number of options as to how information can be shared without breaching patient confidentiality and yet ensuring public safety. Work has been progressing well and draft guidance is in the process of being prepared for consideration.”

The BMA is expected to discuss the issue further at a meeting in late September.

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