GP practices must be ready to share records of deceased patients with their local medical examiner officer by April next year, NHS England has said.
The Health and Care Bill introduced a statutory medical examiner system within the NHS rather than local authorities in England, so that all deaths not involving a coroner can be scrutinised.
This means GP practices will need to grant medical examiners access to patient records for every death where a coroner is not involved.
A letter was sent to GP practices on 11 July 2022, co-signed by national medical examiner Dr Alan Fletcher, NHS national director of patient safety Dr Aidan Fowler and national medical director Professor Sir Steve Powis.
The letter said: ‘All NHS organisations should have processes to facilitate the work of medical examiners in place by 31 March 2023.
‘To do this will require positive engagement across all healthcare systems to overcome practical and logistical challenges.’
In terms of what GP practices need to do, the letter said: ‘All healthcare providers need to develop and implement arrangements to share the records of deceased patients with their local medical examiner office.’
Primary care minister at the time when plans were announced, Maria Caulfield, said the medical examiner system will enhance detection of ‘poor practice’ among GPs.
She said: ‘The medical examiner system will introduce an additional layer of scrutiny of the cause of death by the medical practitioner, improving the quality and accuracy of the medical certificate of cause of death and thereby informing the national data on mortality and patient safety’.
Ms Caulfield said it would ‘increase transparency and facilitate discussions with the bereaved about any concerns they may have, providing new levels of scrutiny to improve detection of criminal activity or poor practice’.
She added: ‘After the statutory medical examiner system has been introduced, all non-coronial deaths will be scrutinised by a medical examiner, for both burials and cremations.’
Ms Caulfield has since been replaced by James Morris.