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Death certification needs more GP scrutiny

By Christian Duffin

Burials must be subjected to the same level of scrutiny as cremations if another Shipman case is to be avoided, the BMA said today.

Dr George Fernie, chair of the BMA's forensic medical committee called for the same procedures to be used for both burial and cremation certification.

The same form could be used for both, and a second signatory should be required for burials as it currently is for cremations, said Dr Fernie.

Dr Fernie said: ‘There would give more safeguards involving burials if the procedures were combined with those for cremations. If you have someone as evil as Shipman you can't be guaranteed to pick them up - whatever system you have. But with a more robust system they could be found out at an early stage.'

Dr Fernie's comments come as the Department of Health launches a consulting on plans to reform the death certification processes.

The department has proposed creating a new breed of worker called ‘medical examiners', who will scrutinise death certificates. These workers could look at medical records, interview the treating doctor and speak to the patients families to see if they have concerns.

Dr Fernie and the Medical Defence Union support the plan in principle, but Dr Peter Schutte, MDU head of advisory services, said: ‘Medical examiners will need to command the respect of both the public and treating clinicians. They should be properly trained and certified to carry out their specialised role.'

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