Doctors will soon be able to pass on mental health information on gun owners to the police so that people with mental health problems that could be a danger to themselves and others can be identified before tragedy strikes.
The British Medical Association, the Police and the Home Office, are currently having discussions to work out the finer details of how such a system should work.
These discussions are taking place in the aftermath of the recent shootings in Cumbria where 12 people were shot dead.
If someone applies for a gun license or already has ownership of a gun, their medical records will be able to be flagged up to doctors.
Then if doctors think that if a particular person could be a threat to the public, they can break patient confidentiality and pass on their professional view to the police without asking for consent from the patient as “public safety” comes first.
“While there is a clear public interest in a confidential health service, where there are serious threats to individuals, confidentiality can be breached” The BMA told The Guardian
“Where doctors know that a patient has a firearm and, in their view, as a result, presents a risk of harm to themselves or others, both legally and ethically, this information can be disclosed without consent.
“The BMA would be concerned if doctors were being asked to police the risk posed by individuals possessing firearms. In the BMA’s view, this is the responsibility of the chief constable.”
So even though doctors can pass on their concerns to the police, they won’t have the power to revoke a gun license, as that responsibility will remain with the Chief Constable reports the Guardian.
The system is fraught with difficulties that will need to be sorted out first though. For example, would a doctor get the blame if one of their patients subsequently went on to kill someone with a gun and they hadn’t flagged them up as a risk?
Would gun owners be afraid to come forward if they had concerns about their mental health?
“An agreement to share information has been agreed in principle and the technical details are now being decided upon” ACPO Firearms Licensing Officer Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Whiting told the BBC.
“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” added Whiting.