Medical examiners are being introduced in England and Wales over the next two years. They will initially scrutinise all deaths that take place in hospitals, and then roll the service out to cover every death, including those in the community, such as at home or in residential care.
2. The role of the medical examiner includes reviewing a deceased patient’s medical records and questioning the doctors who looked after them during their last illness. They will ensure that the cause of death is accurate and that deaths are referred to the coroner if necessary. Importantly, medical examiners will talk to bereaved relatives, explaining what’s written on the death certificate, answering any questions and asking if they have any concerns about their loved one’s care.
3. Medical examiners will not delay the issuing of death certificates or the planning of funerals. They are sensitive to the needs of faith communities and the requirement to register deaths within five days. The shortest time taken to complete scrutiny and issue a death certificate in one of the pilot schemes was 14 minutes.
4. Medical examiners are experienced senior doctors from a range of specialties, most of whom also care for living patients. They are independent of the team who cared for your loved one. They work closely with Medical Examiner Officers, trained healthcare professionals who coordinate medical examiner services to meet the needs of the bereaved.
5. The current medical examiner system is non-statutory, meaning that the law has not been changed yet. Medical examiners will initially work alongside existing systems, such as cremation forms, which must be signed by three doctors before a cremation can take place. In due course the medical examiner system will move to a statutory footing, removing the need for cremation forms, which will be scrapped.
About Dr Suzy Lishman CBE
Suzy is a consultant pathologist in Peterborough and the past president of the Royal College of Pathologists. She has carried out over one thousand post-mortem examinations, and gives regular public talks about the procedure and its benefits. Suzy is also involved in the introduction of a national medical examiner system, leading on training for this diverse group of senior doctors. You can follow her on Twitter.