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Let GPs retain 'old age' as cause of death

GPs must retain the right to cite 'old age' as a cause of death on death certificates, the GPC has warned.

The move comes in response to a Home Office position paper outlining proposed reforms to the coroner and death certification service.

In its formal response to the paper, the GPC has urged the Home Office to ignore the Shipman Inquiry recommendation that 'old age' should no longer be an acceptable cause of death. Medical defence bodies have also called for GPs to be more precise on death certificates.

But the GPC said: 'Often

it is not possible to offer

any more detailed clinical explanation.'

Dr Hamish Meldrum, GPC deputy-chair, said forcing GPs to specify a clinical cause of death – such as pneumonia – in unclear cases could distort official mortality statistics. He added: 'There needs to be some form of description for what in many cases is simply body wear-out.'

Under the reforms proposed by ministers, paramedics would be able to confirm the fact of death. Death certificates would be signed by two professionals – a GP or other doctor and then a medical examiner employed by the coroner service.

But the GPC is also concerned the reforms could lead to greater stress for bereaved families by increasing the number of postmortems and delaying release of bodies.

Any reform, the GPC argued, needed to be 'balanced against the sensitivities of religious and ethnic groups that need to dispose of their deceased swiftly'.

It added it was worried that the new system – which would require more IT and extra money – would not receive adequate funding. It was 'sceptical that such a radically reformed system and improved IT could be adequately financed with existing levels of resources'.

Despite concerns, the GPC and the RCGP have broadly welcomed the plan for a more rigorous system of recording and investigating deaths.

By Joe Lepper

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