NHS GPs to be alerted to mental health of gun owners after spate of fatal shootings

Plymouth crane operator shot and killed five people with a shotgun he legally owned

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NHS GPs will, from today, be able to access to a new digital system designed to alert them to the mental health of gun owners.

The move follows several tragic shooting incidents in which licensed gun owners used their weapons to commit murders.

Last year in Plymouth crane operator Jake Davison, 22, shot and killed five people – including a three-year-old girl – with a pump-action shotgun he legally owned. He suffered from mental health problems and relatives had warned authorities about his behaviour.

And in 2020, Robert Needham, 42, shot and killed his two daughters, aged four and two, and his partner with a shotgun, for which he had a license, at his home in West Sussex.

It's understood he was facing serious financial difficulties and had been forced to wind up his building company.

The new system follows changes to legislation which mean police forces are obliged to scrutinise an individual's medical history before granting a firearms licence.

The process, which is backed by the British Medical Association, will bring in more stringent controls for licensed gun owners and identify those who might be medically unfit to own a firearm.

The new digital marker is being rolled out across GP surgeries in England which, once applied to a patient’s record, will flag that they have a firearms licence and automatically alert doctors if there has been a change in their medical situation.

Undated file photo of Jake Davison, posted on his Facebook page
Undated file photo of Jake Davison, posted on his Facebook page

This could include a change in their mental health, diagnosis of a neurological condition or evidence of substance abuse.

It means GPs will be able to alert the relevant police force, who will then ensure licensed gun holders who may no longer be fit to own a firearm are quickly identified, their licence reviewed and, if necessary, their firearm seized.

Crime and Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said: “We have some of the strictest gun control laws in the world and we will not hesitate to bring in even stronger processes where we see the need for them.

“The imminent inquest into the tragic shootings in Sussex and impending first anniversary of the horrific shootings in Plymouth are a stark reminder of how much we owe it to the public to take these matters seriously.

“We are focused on making our streets safer and it is absolutely right that the police be told about changes in the medical circumstances of anyone licensed to own a gun. This move is yet another example of us giving the police the tools they require to protect the public.”

The digital marker system comes on top of recent guidelines, brought into force last November, which stop police forces granting a firearms licence until they have reviewed information from a suitably qualified doctor regarding the applicant’s medical history.

Dr Peter Holden, BMA lead for firearms licensing policy and a GP in Matlock, Derbyshire, said: “For decades now, the BMA has been pushing for an active flagging system within patients’ records that is robust, clear and standardised across the country, and the new digital marker is a positive step in the right direction of improving the contribution GPs make to the licensing process.

“However, the public should be under no illusion that this will be an overnight solution. This new scheme will apply only to new applicants or people renewing their licences, so it will take up to five years before all licensed gun owners are included within this framework.

“The introduction of the marker though must not imply that the buck for public safety stops with the GP; as the police have acknowledged, they themselves are ultimately responsible for firearms licensing."

The marker has been developed by NHS Digital and is being rolled out in GP practices across England, with 98% of practices able to access it from this week.