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Coroners have no right to tell GPs they must verify death in person, says MOJ

Coroners have no legal powers to tell GPs they must confirm a death in person, the Ministry of Justice has indicated, amid the dispute between the BMA and some coroners.

The Government department, which oversees the laws regulating coroners in England and Wales, confirmed that neither the chief coroner nor each region’s local coroner’s office had the authority to demand their own verification protocols.

The clarification comes following a dispute between the BMA and some coroners over whether a trained GP or other healthcare professional should have to physically attend a patient to confirm they are dead.

The BMA has argued there has never been a legal requirement for doctors to verify deaths and that they can provide remote assistance during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Coroners in London admitted that while the law does not require a certain person to confirm someone has died, it is their belief this should only be done by ‘a healthcare professional who has undertaken the appropriate training’.

The dispute comes during the coronavirus outbreak, with the BMA saying the coroners’ stance could indirectly cause excess deaths because doctors would unnecessarily be pulled away from frontline care.

The Department of Health and Social Care last week issued guidance stating GPs are not required to verify deaths in person during the Covid-19 pandemic but are expected to provide remote clinical support.

But following the DHSC guidance, GPs have said it is the MOJ’s clarification that should be the ‘baseline from which to start local discussions’.

GP Dr Paul Cundy, a member of the BMA’s GP Committee who has been following the death verification issues closely, said: ‘Relationships between coroners, registrars and GPs vary up and down the country from mutually collaborative to outright war.

‘This confirmation from the MOJ establishes the baseline from which to start local discussions.’

He added: ‘GPs are the domain experts, we have the experience and exposure, we should lead in deciding how verification should be managed.’

In correspondence sent by the Ministry of Justice, seen by Pulse, the department’s Covid-19 death management team said: ‘We can confirm that the chief coroner nor any coroner has any legal powers, authority or mandate concerning the verification of death. They would be involved at a later stage of the process.’