UK Shooting News can disclose that a secretive Home Office working group has been formed “to consider how to improve information sharing arrangements” of firearm and shotgun certificate holders’ sensitive medical data between police and GPs.
When asked for further information about the working group, a Home Office spokesman would only confirm to UKSN that “there is no information about this working group currently in the public domain.”
The working group’s existence was disclosed in January by Lynne Featherstone, the former Lib Dem minister for firearms licensing under the previous coalition government. In response to a Parliamentary question by Conservative MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown*, who asked what measures flagged up FAC/SGC holders with “[in]appropriate medical conditions,” Featherstone said:
The Home Office has set up a working group to consider how to improve information sharing arrangements between General Practitioners and police regarding shotgun and firearm certificate holders. Those represented on the group include the police, the medical profession and shooting organisations.
At the meeting on 21 January the group discussed the possibility of flagging the medical records of people who hold shotgun and firearm certificates, and further work to explore this is being taken forward.
The Home Office’s refusal to disclose further information about the working group does not bode well for the licensed firearms community. Similar language about “those represented” was used to justify Operation Solitaire, which launched by ACPO in late 2014. Shooting organisations indicated they commented on an early draft version of the Op Solitaire material, inferring they had little or no input into the finished product.
Information about the police use of medical data obtained from GPs is sparse; forces do not proactively disclose any information about what data they obtain, when they obtain it, how they use it or how they consult qualified medical practitioners when coming to decisions over revocations or arrests. Firearm and shotgun certificate holders must sign a blanket disclaimer effectively waiving their right to privacy over their medical history, allowing the police to poke and pry at will.
No police or Home Office official seems to have considered that their completely unregulated access to sensitive medical data could well deter FAC/SGC holders from seeking medical help for fear of triggering an unwelcome response from risk-averse police forces.
There are, to UKSN’s knowledge, no national standards for the obtaining or use of medical data relating to FAC and SGC holders.
Police forces seeking a medical report about a certificate holder have repeatedly tried to foist the cost of such reports onto the targeted certificate holders, despite having no lawful authority to do so. The latest edition of the Home Office Guidance on Firearms Law does not state who is liable for these fees; in the past the guidance clearly stated such costs were to be met by the police from their own funds.
*Clifton-Brown voted in favour of keeping .22 pistols legal in 1997.