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Monday, 3 February, 2003, 17:18 GMT
Doctors under fire over gun crime
Gun crime is increasing across Britain
Doctors have been accused of hampering police efforts to crack down on gun crime.

Police chiefs say hospitals fail to report gunshot victims and withhold bullets retrieved from patients.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said better guidelines were needed to ensure doctors report gun crime victims to the authorities.

It would be wrong to put calling the police before the needs of their patient

Dr Vivienne Nathanson
The British Medical Association hit back at the claims saying there was no evidence to back them up.

But a spokesman for Acpo said police needed doctors to do more to help them tackle gun crime.

"If we aren't getting information from hospital staff then you are saying to these criminals you can get away with shooting someone," he said.

Mandatory reporting

"What we are asking for is mandatory guidelines for the reporting of gunshot wounds because there are none at the moment.

"We can understand the difficulties and that victims may not want to divulge information to the police.

"But at the same time, with the recent rise in gun crime, if police aren't given information then it makes it very difficult to take an investigation forward."

He added: "If a patient has been shot and a doctor retrieves a bullet from their body that's a pretty crucial piece of evidence in the case."

But Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, dismissed the claims.

"We've not had any contact from Acpo saying this. We write advice for doctors and that advice includes that they should be balancing the right of the individual to confidentiality against the danger to the public.

"Although they are not agents of the police, they will report cases where they think that is appropriate. We have not had any evidence that they haven't been doing so," she told the BBC.

Dr Nathanson also rejected calls for doctors to be required to notify police of gun crime victims.

"Doctors are not agents of the police and it would be wrong to put calling the police before the needs of their patient."

Medical advice

A spokeswoman for the General Medical Council, which regulates the profession, said existing guidelines advised doctors to report gunshot wounds but none of their rules were compulsory.

"It's not within our remit to have mandatory guidelines," she said.

"Our guidance states very strongly that gunshot wounds should be reported."

The police organisation, which represents chief constables and their deputies, said it wrote to the GMC late last year but has still to receive a response.

Earlier this month Home Office figures showed gun crime in England and Wales soared by 35% last year, and criminals used handguns in 46% more offences.

A Home Office spokesman said: "If it appears that a serious crime has been committed it is our view that doctors should report it swiftly to police."

Asked if the Home Office backed the call for mandatory guidelines, he said: "That's really a matter for Acpo and the GMC to hammer out.

"This is an operational issue which we wouldn't get involved in, although we would be there to offer help and guidance."


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12 Jan 03 | Politics
10 Jan 03 | Politics
09 Jan 03 | UK
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