Regulating police access to shooters’ sensitive medical data

Something of great concern to the licensed firearms community is how the police deliberately word the firearm and shotgun certificate application forms to obtain totally unregulated access to applicants’ sensitive medical data.

But there may be a way to bring the police back within the law while restoring the privacy, dignity and autonomy of shooters and maintaining public confidence in the licensing system: make the police trade in medical data and reports subject to the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988.

The AMRA was passed to prevent insurance companies and employers from trading in private medical data behind an individual’s back, reflecting popular concern that inaccurate or fraudulently obtained data, in the form of medical reports compiled by doctors, was being used to deny people access to services, employment or related benefits of the latter.

All this would need is a simple amendment to section 1 of the act to include law enforcement agencies using medical reports to make any decision as to whether to grant or withhold any certificate or licence, or for connected purposes.

If the police have nothing to hide while “providing a fair and transparent service to the public” then they should welcome such a move. More cynically, it would be difficult even for the notoriously truth-shy PR and lobbying tentacles of agencies such as NABIS and the NPCC to resist a simple transparency measure.

There are no published transparency standards for medical data relating to firearm and shotgun certificate holders. Police forces do not release information on how they make use of medical reports. There are no published criteria on what sort of medical conditions trigger a police demand for a medical report, or other police contact with an NHS GP. Neither are there any published data about how medical reports are used by police, or any codes of practice controlling and regulating their use.

It is entirely likely that police employees with no formal medical training whatsoever are using such reports to make decisions on fitness to possess firearms, with no informed understanding of the information in front of them.

The entire police trade in sensitive medical data is beyond any public oversight and is, for practical purposes, totally unregulated. This situation needs to be brought to an end, while maintaining the integrity of the certification system.

The Information Commissioner has heavily criticised the insurance industry for using a similar method of circumventing privacy and security laws as the police impose on the licensed firearms community. UK Shooting News is considering contacting the ICO for their thoughts on our situation.

Despite all of this, the police, in conjunction with the Home Office and doctors’ trade union the British Medical Association, are trying to widen their access to sensitive medical data about individuals without oversight or a mechanism for appeal. The Home Office refused to tell UK Shooting News anything about this initiative when we exposed it earlier this year.

UKSN suggests readers who intend responding to the Law Commission consultation paper include something to the effect of “please bring the police trade in medical data within the scope of the Access to Medical Reports Act” in their responses.

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