A Sheffield consultant in emergency medicine, the lead medical examiner for Sheffield and Chair of The Royal College of Pathology Medical Examiners Committee, has been appointed as the new National Medical Examiner for the NHS. In his role, Dr Fletcher will oversee the introduction of the new system across England and Wales.
Dr Alan Fletcher has had a lead role in the national work to develop the medical examiner system having worked on the system’s first pilot at Sheffield Teaching Hospital. He will report directly to the NHS Director of Patient Safety, Dr Aidan Fowler.
The introduction of a national system of medical examiners forms part of the Government’s commitment to improve patient safety as outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan and provide support for bereaved families. Medical examiners will be responsible for scrutinising all deaths that do not fall under the coroner’s jurisdiction across a local area.
From April 2019, NHS acute providers are being encouraged to begin setting up medical examiner offices – the expectation is that providers will begin to establish the size of the medical examiner system they need for their local area and start to recruit. Initial implementation will focus on secondary care, with primary care being added later.
Support for local providers setting up a medical examiner system is provided on the Royal College of Pathologists’ website. Extensive resources from job descriptions for medical examiners to funding and support for providers is on offer, together with a video on setting up a system from a hospital trust’s perspective, including lessons learned from the pilots across the country.
For community and mental health trusts, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Welsh Government, working together with NHS Improvement and NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership, are providing the solution for the medical examiners to scrutinise all non- coronial deaths, including deaths in the community.
According the RCPs, it will not be mandatory at this stage to have a fully operational medical examiner system in place for providers – the non-statutory period allows for providers to implement a system in a way that minimises risk.