Notification of deaths regulations: coming into force on 1 October 2019

This Regulation requires a registered medical practitioner to notify the relevant senior coroner of a death if one or more prescribed circumstances apply in England and Wales.

What’s the context

The provisions relating to the introduction of medical examiners and reforms of the death certification process were subject to a Department of Health consultation, Introduction of Medical Examiners and Reforms to Death Certification in England and Wales in 2016. Two years later the Government published its response which announced that NHS England would begin implementing a non-statutory medical examiner system from April 2019, and would implement a statutory scheme in due course.

Broadly speaking, under the Regulations, medical practitioners must report a death if:

  • they suspect the cause of death was unnatural (a detailed list is included in the Regulations);
  • the cause of death is unknown;
  • the deceased died in custody or otherwise in state detention;
  • they suspect that no medical practitioner is required to sign a medical certificate cause of death for the deceased person;
  • another medical practitioner is required to sign a death certificate for the deceased person but is not available to do so within a reasonable time; or
  • the identity of the deceased cannot be ascertained.

The circumstances set out in the Regulations, in which a death must be reported, cover both those circumstances in which coroners have a duty to investigate and those circumstances in which registrars currently have a duty to report deaths to coroners (following receipt of a medical certificate from the medical practitioner).

The majority of medical practitioners already routinely report deaths in the circumstances set out in these Regulations to coroners, but the new Regulations clarifies those circumstances in which a death must be reported, and when and how this should be done. This should reduce the risk of medical practitioners either unnecessarily reporting a death, or failing to report a death that the coroner has a statutory duty to investigate.

Guidance is on its way

A new guidance document to accompany the Regulations will be finalised and published before the Regulations come into force on 1 October.

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