Health

Doctors to flag up mentally ill patients who own guns

  • 15 June 2010
  • From the section Health
A smoking shotgun
Image caption Medical records could contain details of patients holding firearms licences

Doctors are preparing to share information on gun owners with police so they can flag up patients who could be a danger to themselves or others.

The British Medical Association says discussions are taking place with the police and the Home Office on exactly how this system might work.

Electronic tags could be placed in medical records to show which patients hold a firearms or shotgun licence.

But the BMA stresses it is not the job of doctors to police their patients.

"Such a system can be appropriate, provided it is used as part of the ordinary care given to a patient," says the body which represents doctors.

"It can, for example, be a useful aide-mémoire, to remind doctors that the patient has, or may have, access to a firearm.

"Such a system should not, however, imply that the GP practice has taken on particular obligations to monitor or oversee the mental health of individuals holding firearms licences," explains the BMA.

Image caption Gun owner Derrick Bird shot dead 12 people and injured 11 more in Cumbria

These discussions are taking place just two weeks after the fatal shooting of 12 people in Cumbria by taxi driver Derrick Bird.

As yet, no evidence has emerged that Bird had any health problems before he started his rampage.

The BMA says doctors have always been prepared to breach confidentiality and inform on patients if they have concerns about their mental health.

Safety checks

Firearms licences last for five years. Anyone applying for a licence must go through their local police.

In doing so they have to declare if they have any health problems affecting their fitness to hold a licence and give permission for police to approach their doctor about any such issues.

The ACPO lead officer for firearms licensing, Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Whiting, said an agreement with the BMA had been reached.

"It is important that suitable safeguards should exist around personal data and the security of firearms and explosives.

"An agreement to share information has been agreed in principle and the technical details are now being decided upon," he said.

"To discuss it further now would be premature and this work, together with any proposals for change, would no doubt be considered in any future discussions on the UK firearms licensing system."

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We await the outcome of these discussions and will consider them as part of our look at firearms licensing laws."

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