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GP fees for firearms licences – why should we expect a free service?

Providing a letter for firearms certificate applicants is clearly not part of GPs’ NHS contract — so why should we expect it to be a free service, asks Alasdair Mitchell in Shooting Times

night time shooter with dog

After a satisfactory session Tom packs up and heads home at last light with Woody

There are still some shooters who think GPs should be expected to provide a free service for shotgun certificate applicants. This is unrealistic. It seems to me that GPs have been handed a private sector monopoly by the police, under the guise of performing a public service. (Read firearms licensing GP letter saga continues.)

GP fees for firearms licences

The fact is that almost all GP surgeries are commercial enterprises. And GPs spend the vast majority of their time scrambling to fulfil a contract with the NHS to deliver public health services. This contract is very tightly drawn. Conducting a scan of medical records to facilitate a shotgun or firearm certificate application is not part of the NHS contract. Nor, as far as I can see, is the requirement to insert a marker on a certificate holder’s medical records. Perhaps it should be because, unlike the validation of a patient’s records, it is a simple admin task. But in most cases, the expectation is that a GP will do both — and that’s a problem if they refuse to get involved in the first place. (What’s one of the biggest issues for firearms certificate holders at the moment?)

GPs complain they are overworked, not least because of the red tape that seems part and parcel of any public service contract. A majority of GPs work part-time. About 60% are women, many balancing career and family care. More and more GPs are retiring early, partly due to burnout, but also because they have large pensions and want to avoid getting caught in a tax trap. Given all this, why does anybody expect GPs to do non-contractual work free? GPs are highly qualified professionals with excellent academic credentials. True, they chose medicine over even more lucrative careers, such as finance. But GP surgeries are not charities. Ask yourself how much a lawyer would charge for examining a detailed set of personal records to the satisfaction of the police. Most GP surgeries publish a price list for optional, non-NHS work, such as medicals for HGV drivers, travel medication and so forth. (Read more on medical verification services which speed up firearms certificate applications.)

GP fees for firearms licences

The role of GPs in the firearms licensing process rumbles on

Financial incentives

It is worth noting that the Government resorted to financial incentives to get Covid vaccines rolled out. In January 2021, NHS England was paying GPs a bonus of up to £30 a jab to vaccinate the residents of care homes. Later, when NHS leaders issued a reminder that all patients are entitled to face-to-face GP consultations, the doctors’ trade union complained this was counter to “the needs of the profession”. How silly of us to imagine that the medical profession exists to serve the needs of the public. The crux of the problem for the shooting community is this: a statutory body — the police — requires us to obtain input from GPs, who run private businesses and do not have to cooperate. And when they do, they can charge whatever they want and take as long as they wish. The resulting inconsistencies are glaring. GPs are largely exempt from the influence of market forces, because they have traditionally enjoyed a monopoly. They have had a captive customer base, recruited for them by the police. Recently, however, an outfit called MedCert  has been offering an alternative to GP fees for firearms licences. It seems to be building a good reputation. Just don’t expect to get anything free of charge.