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More GPs refer to coroner

GPs are referring increasing numbers of deaths to coroners because they are reluctant to cite old age as the cause of death.

The Coroners' Society of England and Wales said it had 'no doubt' the number of referrals had risen even before new Government proposals to tighten up death certification.

Secretary of the society Victor Round said GPs were preferring to refer cases for a post-mortem to avoid any suspicion.

'It's just anecdotal at the moment but in my opinion there are more,' he said.

'In nearly all of the cases where a post mortem takes place the result is natural cause of death.'

Dr John Grenville, a GP in Derby and expert witness at the Shipman Inquiry, said GPs had become much more cautious.

He added: 'They have to sign a cause of death to the best of their knowledge and belief and GPs are being much more cautious about their beliefs than they used to be.'

The Shipman Inquiry has recommended GPs no longer give 'old age' as a reason for death and medical defence bodies have also advised GPs to be more precise.

Recent Medical Protection Society guidance said GPs should use the term 'unascertained' rather than old age.

Head of medical services at the society Dr Stephanie Bown said: 'The rules haven't yet changed, but the importance of adhering to them post-Shipman cannot be overestimated.'

Dr Matthew Lee, medico-legal adviser to the Medical Defence Union, added: 'I'm sure a lot of doctors now think twice about putting a non-precise cause of death.'

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