Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced the introduction of medical examiners from April 2018 to independently ‘review and confirm the cause of all deaths.’
Mr Hunt said that independent medical examiners – which were first recommended at the 2005 inquiry into the murders by GP Dr Harold Shipman – would bring a ‘profound change in our ability to learn from unexpected or avoidable deaths’.
The GPC said that GPs will still have to sign the medical certificate of the cause of death, and this may even require further information, such as that required by the cremation certificate.
Medical defence organisations said that there was a lack of detail around the announcement, including how they will be funded.
In a statement to the Commons, Mr Hunt said: ‘Grieving relatives will be at the heart of the process and will have the chance to flag any concerns about the quality of care and the cause of death to an independent clinician, meaning we get to the bottom of any systemic failings much more quickly.’
Medical examiners were piloted a couple of years ago, but plans to roll them out nationwide were put on hold.
Heidi Alexander, Labour’s shadow health secretary said: ‘The implementation of independent medical examiners is long overdue and it is unclear why it is being further delayed until 2018, given that the previous Labour Government first legislated for these important reforms in 2009’.
But GPs and medical defence organisations said there was a lack of clarity around the announcements.
Dr Robert Morley, chair of the GPC’s contracts and regulation subcommittee, said GPs ‘will still have to sign the medical certificate of the cause of death as now’.
However, he added, ’this may require further information, possibly including details that are currently on the cremation certificate. I believe GPs will no longer be required to sign a separate cremation certificate – for which they are currently paid a fee – as this responsibility will pass to the new medical examiners.’
The MDU said: ‘There is no detail about who the medical examiners will be, how they will be trained and funded and what their independent review process will consist of. Until such further detail is available it isn’t possible to determine the future contribution medical examiners could make to patient safety.’
Mr Hunt also announced other measures including the introduction of a Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch to make it easier for healthcare staff to report wrongdoing.
He also introduced a national ‘learning from mistakes league’, which ranks NHS trusts in terms of transparency, and has rated 32 as having a ‘poor reporting culture’, 78 with ‘significant concerns’ and 120 as outstanding or good.