Medical Examiner update

words: Paul Allcock F.SAIF, SAIF Government Liaison
Medical examiner

Along with many of you, I have been following the gradual introduction of the new Medical Examiner process for scrutiny of deaths for the last few years. For the past 12 months, it had been made clear that the system would be working towards becoming statutory from 1 April this year.

On 27 April, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Maria Caulfield announced in a statement in the House of Commons that the Government’s plan for introducing the statutory Medical Examiner system would now be from April 2024.

In his latest update, the National Medical Examiner Dr Alan Fletcher gave an indication that this additional preparation time may be welcome for many, to embed processes with other providers, and to implement options for sharing patient information. It appears that, while it was thought that GP surgeries in most areas were preparing and indeed were already working with their local Medical Examiners, this was evidently not the case.

Dr Fletcher added in his recent report that Medical Examiners in England are now reviewing around 22% of estimated deaths in the community (up from 16% in the previous quarter). This figure is considerably less than I, for one, had wrongly assumed would or should be the case.

There are always going to be stumbling blocks when it comes to implementing any new system, particularly something on the scale of changing the processes following every death across England and Wales. For this to succeed in a timely manner, there also needs to be some drive and a desire from all parties to achieve a successful outcome.

Added to this, we have the ongoing Fuller Inquiry, where we are likely to see a number of changes and recommendations surrounding the care of the deceased and mortuary practice. And we have recently been notified that the Law Commission is undertaking a project looking at the laws governing how we dispose of the bodies of our loved ones when they die, to bring the legislative framework into line with modern needs. It will be interesting to see what changes come out of the Law Commission project and the Fuller Inquiry and if they will have any effect on the Medical Examiner process in due course.

We will, of course, ensure that SAIF members are kept up to date with any new guidance, but for the moment it is a case of carry on as before.

The diagram should at least give you an indication of the new procedure as the Medical Examiner process is rolled out across England and Wales.

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