Your NHS medical records will be marked forever if you hold a firearm or shotgun certificate, according to new information released this week about how medical information will be used to surveil shooters.
The document detailing the changes also revealed that shooters will be expected to pay for routine medical reports, which police will demand with every grant and renewal of a certificate starting this April.
Released by West Mercia Police, the document – which appears to be an annex to further changes which have not yet made public – is available on their website. UK Shooting News has taken the precaution of backing it up here (PDF), in case it goes walkabout later on.
The document does not mention any cap on the level of payments GPs will be able to demand from shooters. In terms of information security and preventing this information from getting into the wrong hands, it states: “Due care will be exercised by GP practices in relation to information about firearms in the same way that sensitive medical information is handled.”
The lifetime marker on your medical record is explicitly to “enable the GP to discuss the issue with the patient and if necessary inform the police,” if, in the doctor’s opinion, they think you shouldn’t have access to firearms. If you give up your certificate, the marker will be “inactivated”, which the document makes clear does not mean it will be removed.
A list of qualifying medical conditions has been included for the first time, however. Some of these include depression, “acute stress reaction from trauma”, psychotic illnesses, neurological conditions including multiple sclerosis, and “any other mental or physical condition which might affect your safe possession of firearms or shotguns.”
UK Shooting News is aware of a recent case where an elderly shotgun certificate holder had his gun (singular) confiscated by a “threatening and aggressive” WPC (in the certificate holder’s daughter’s words) because – incredibly – his police force had independently decided he was “at risk” of developing dementia.
Police forces are, according to this document, supposed to pay for further medical reports if the first one, funded by the certificate holder, turns up something which they want more information about.
The document also states that changes will take place to the Guidance on Firearms Law and to the application for grant and renewal forms. It is unknown what other changes will be made to the guidance.
UKSN comment: This is horrendous. Nobody will do anything, though
Doubtless I’ll see the usual outbreak of people around the web insisting that this is perfectly acceptable (“nothing to hide, nothing to fear”) or even that I’ve forged it and made it up for blog traffic. Take it or leave it; even British shooters no longer believe what the police and the government get up to.
It’s strange to see that people from countries other than the UK are routinely horrified by the excesses of the British system, while Brits tend to be split 70-30 in favour of the latest privacy-busting wheeze.
As for the scheme itself: we, as a community, must now face up to a future where we simply cannot rely on security through obscurity. You must assume that your neighbours and other locals will become aware that you have firearms stored at home. You cannot trust that a minimum wage receptionist, who may even be temporary or agency staff and who is not subject to any vetting – unlike us – will not remember or make a note of this sort of information as it becomes available to them.
There is a world of difference between knowing that Joe Bloggs has colon cancer and that Joe Bloggs owns one or more firearms; it doesn’t take the brains of a rocket scientist to figure out which of these is the more valuable information in the wrong hands.
The worst part is that nowhere in this process, beyond the “I am not insane” report that you must suffer the indignity of paying for, are you notified that the police are thumbing through your files, or that your GP surgery has started sending extra information about you to the police: the opportunity for you to raise objections, examine the accuracy of data passed on, or otherwise be in control of your personal data has been neatly removed from this system by design. How can you report a breach of the Data Protection Act, or other laws, to the Information Commissioner if you don’t even know when your data is being processed?
Moreover, the failure of the shooting organisations who agreed this stuff on our behalf to have a cap imposed on doctors’ fees now means shooters will be subject to a postcode lottery – a tax on shooting – determined entirely by individual medics’ personal whims. Once again, this raises the barriers of entry and means only the well-off will be able to afford to take up or continue shooting outside of the club environment, a fact that certainly won’t have been lost on the police.
With the BMA doctors’ trade union becoming increasingly militant over its payrise demands, can you trust that your local GP won’t see you as a cash cow to be milked, safe in the knowledge that you simply do not have the option of saying “no” to his demands for money if you want to continue your hobby? Can you trust that your doctor – who you may only see once every few years – does not oppose shooting on ideological grounds and won’t use this as an opportunity to have you disarmed? Again, UKSN is aware of at least one case up north (relating to an applicant with an autism spectrum diagnosis) where a doctor has successfully managed to do that very thing.
The last part of this puzzle is that many shooters will quietly decide that qualified medical help is no longer an option of first resort except in life-threatening cases. Those who can afford it will take out private medical insurance and withdraw from the NHS, placing an extra hurdle in the way of police looking for information. Why take the gamble of telling your GP, or a mental health professional, that you’re feeling a bit down if that could end up summarised on your file as “depression”, triggering a certificate revocation which could cost £15,000 or moreto fight in court? If you, like the vast majority of the British population, ignore the farcical “no safe limit for drinking” official alcohol guidelines, does that make you an “alcohol abuser” – who may only discover that diagnosis when armed police turn up at 6am to empty your cabinets?
In a world where authorities routinely ignore people’s privacy, dignity and autonomy, people will reduce the amount they engage with the authorities to the bare minimum. This is a dangerous move that ultimately drives a wedge not only between the police and the licensed firearms community but also between the community and the medical profession.