Death certification reforms and medical examiners to be introduced in England after extended period of consultation

Alongside the recommendations from the Williams review into gross negligence manslaughter comes the announcement that a medical examiner system will be introduced in England and Wales.

Medical examiners were first proposed in Dame Janet Smith's Shipman inquiry in 2002. Although a pilot scheme was adopted by seven sites across England in 2008, a nation-wide rollout has not been put in place until now.

The Department of Health consulted on draft regulations for medical examiners in 2016 and the MDU responded on behalf of its members.

Key to our recommendations was that the process should be as simple and transparent as possible, and should not place too much of an administrative burden on already stretched medical professionals.

These included:

  • Placing realistic expectations on doctors' availability when responding to enquiries from medical examiners, taking into account existing demands of doctors' time and ensuring their first duty is to their patients.
  • Simplifying the process by which the coroner notifies the medical examiner and attending practitioner of their intention to investigate a death, for better efficiency.
  • Setting out a procedure to follow in the case of a disagreement between the medical examiner and qualified attending practitioner.
  • Clear and reasonable timeframes for performing tasks, such as completing certificates, which take into account the other clinical responsibilities of both medical examiners and qualified attending practitioners.
  • Setting out a clear procedure for any circumstances in which a qualified attending practitioner is unavailable to assist the medical examiner, to facilitate a speedy process.
  • Encouraging electronic communication of documents to avoid unnecessary delay and extra administration.
  • Providing clarity around indemnity arrangements and whether indemnity would be covered by the local authority or the medical professional acting as a medical examiner.

The medical examiner scheme will be introduced in England in April 2019.

Read our full submission to the 2016 consultation.

This page was correct at publication on 21/06/2018. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.