NHS and government developing ‘digital marker’ for GPs to add firearms records to patient data

New system will make it easier to flag gun ownership

Credit: Mohamed Hassan/PxHere 

The government and the NHS are developing a “digital marker” tool that will make it easier for GPs to incorporate into patient records details of firearms licences and gun ownership.

Late last year the Home Office updated its statutory guidance on the licensing process for firearms, with the aim of providing greater clarity to the respective roles of government, law enforcement, general practitioners, and applicants.

In its response to the update, the British Medical Association said that “firearms licensing officers often request the doctor to place a flag in the patient record if they have a firearms licence”.

The trade union added that had “raised the practical implications of placing a flag on the records and have worked with the Home Office and police authorities to ensure that there are clearer requirements in the statutory guidance”.

Primary care and patient safety minister Maria Caulfield this week said that the Department of Health and Social Care is currently engaged in creating a new IT system to allow flags to be more easily recorded on patient records.

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“The department is working with the Home Office and NHS Digital to develop a national firearms digital marker for use within general practice,” she said, in answer to a written parliamentary question from Labour MP Luke Pollard. “NHS Digital plans to expand existing patient record content with additional markers to indicate whether the patient has applied for or holds a firearms license. These new markers will enhance existing local arrangements and alerting functionality to alert the general practitioner to any medical conditions as part of the license application process or after the license has been granted, which may impact the patient’s suitability to hold a firearms license.”

In answer to a separate question, the minister said that the DHSC and Home Office has worked with the BMA “ensure that GPs are aware of and understand how to use the marker system”. 

The BMA’s guidance for medical professionals said that “the purpose of having a marker on the medical record is to provide a reminder to the GP that they may need to notify the police if a person begins to suffer from a relevant medical condition, or a relevant condition worsens significantly, specifically when this may affect the person’s ability to possess a firearm safely”.

“The marker will be on the record during the validity of their firearm or shotgun certificate or registration as a firearms dealer,” it added. “This is added to the patient’s record by the GP on a reasonable endeavours basis, to minimise the risk if relevant developments or changes are not reported to the police, which could endanger the certificate holder, members of his or her family, or the wider public.

“There is no requirement for GPs to monitor or assess a patient who currently holds a firearm certificate, but they should consider notifying the police if they become aware that relevant aspects of a licence holder’s circumstances have changed that mean they may no longer be safe to hold a firearms licence. It is open to a GP to approach the police at any time in order to pass on information of possible concern about an individual.”


Sam Trendall

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