Guidance for medical practitioners: when to report a death to the coroner

The Ministry of Justice has published guidance to help medical practitioners understand when they are obliged to report a death to the coroner. This guidance comes ahead of the new Notification of Deaths Regulations 2019, which come into force on the 1 October 2019.

When to report a death?

Put simply, medical practitioners aware of a person’s death are under a duty to report this to the local coroner’s office if they have reason to believe that the death was due to any of the following circumstances:

  • Poisoning including by an otherwise benign substance
  • Exposure to, or contact with a toxic substance
  • The use of a medicinal product, the use of a controlled drug or psychoactive substance
  • Violence, trauma or injury
  • Self-harm
  • Neglect, including self-neglect
  • Due to a person undergoing any treatment or procedure of a medical or similar nature
  • Due to an injury or disease attributable to any employment held by the person during the person’s lifetime
  • Unnatural but does not fall within any of the above circumstances
  • Unknown
  • The registered medical practitioner suspects that the person died while in custody or otherwise in state detention
  • There was no attending registered medical practitioner required to sign a medical certificate cause of death in relation to the deceased person
  • The attending medical practitioner is not available within a reasonable time of the person’s death to sign the certificate of cause of death
  • The identity of the deceased person is unknown

A medical practitioner must report the death to the coroner even if they know that someone other than another medical practitioner, such as a family member, has reported the death.

What information does the coroner need?

Regulation 4(3) and (4) outline what the coroner needs to know, this includes, but is not limited to, details known of the individuals’ personal details, name, date of birth, next of kin, the date of death and most likely cause of death, plus why the medical practitioner believes the coroner needs to be notified of the death.

The coroner must be informed as soon as reasonably practicable after the medical practitioner has established that one of the above conditions apply.

If the death is thought to be suspicious, the police should also be informed.

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