Coroner sign

New medical examiner law to strengthen public protection

Stronger medical examiner regulation is set to come into force by September, the government has announced as it looks to bolster public protection and transparency.

From 9 September 2024, all deaths in any health setting that have not been referred to a coroner will be investigated by a medical examiner.

NHS trusts have appointed medical examiners to scrutinise most deaths in acute and community settings since 2019.

The cases involving Harold Shipman and Lucy Letby have emphasised the need for a further layer of scrutiny, according to the government.

Laying the regulation before parliament and detailing when the new system will come into effect means stakeholders have a chance to prepare for the change.

Changes in the workforce will be explored at National Health Executive’s dedicated online conference later this month.

Maria Caulfield comment

“I am delighted that the statutory basis for independent medical examiners is confirmed,” said the national medical examiner for England and Wales, Dr Alan Fletcher.

“This will ensure all bereaved people have a voice, supporting patient safety learning and improvement, including through accurate coroner referrals.”

Medical examiners will also ensure the families of the deceased are engaged with and afforded an opportunity to ask questions or raise concerns with a senior doctor.

The Welsh health secretary, Eluned Morgan, welcomes the “long-awaited step forward”.

She added: “Moving the current medical examiner service onto a statutory basis will also introduce independent scrutiny of all deaths and an increased opportunity for learning and improvement across the health sector.”

Government and NHS leaders are already working in collaboration to ensure the requisite operational processes are in place before the revamp of the death certification process.

Further communication on the legislative changes and operational guidance is expected between now and autumn.

Image credit: iStock

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NHE May/June 2024

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