The Notification of Deaths Regulations 2019

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21 November, 2019

Ridwaan Omar
Partner and Head of Regulatory

Following recommendations made by Dame Janet Smith, Chair of the Shipman Inquiry, new regulations have finally been introduced to ensure greater consistency in the reporting of deaths by medical practitioners in England and Wales. The Regulations came into force on 1st October 2019 with immediate effect. The regulations impose a duty on medical practitioners to report deaths in certain prescribed circumstances to the senior coroner. Prior to the introduction of the regulations, the reporting of deaths varied significantly across the country.

A copy of the Notification of Deaths Regulations 2019 can be found here.

When to provide notification of a death to a coroner?

As set out in paragraph 3(1) of the regulations, medical practitioners must provide notification of a death to the relevant senior coroner when he/she suspects that the death was due to:

  • poisoning;
  • exposure to or contact with a toxic substance;
  • the use of a medicinal product, controlled drug or psychoactive substance;
  • violence;
  • trauma or injury;
  • self-harm;
  • neglect, including self-neglect;
  • the person undergoing a treatment or procedure of a medical or similar nature; or
  • an injury or disease attributable to any employment held by the person during the person's lifetime.

In addition, the Regulations specify that a death must be notified to the coroner where:

  • the medical practitioner suspects that the person's death was unnatural but does not fall within any of the circumstances listed above;
  • despite taking reasonable steps to determine the cause of death, the cause of death is unknown; or
  • the person died while in custody or otherwise in state detention; or
  • the attending medical practitioner is not available within a reasonable time of the person's death to sign the certificate of cause of death; or if
  • the registered medical practitioner, after taking reasonable steps to ascertain the identity of the deceased person, is unable to do so.

The Ministry of Justice has also published a guidance document to help registered medical practitioners understand their duties under the new regulations.

How and when must a coroner be notified of a death?

A registered medical practitioner must notify a relevant senior coroner of a person's death "as soon as is reasonably practicable" after the duty arises. Whilst the regulations do not prescribe a specific time limit, this should be prioritised and if the death is suspicious, the police should be informed.

Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the registered medical practitioner must notify the senior coroner in writing and provide as much of the following information as is known:

  • the registered medical practitioner's full name; postal address; telephone number; and email address;
  • the deceased person's full name; date of birth; sex; address or usual place of residence; occupation;
  • the name and address of the deceased person's next of kin; or where there is no next of kin, the person responsible for the body of the deceased person;
  • the circumstances in regulation 3(1) which apply to the death;
  • the place of death;
  • the date and time of death;
  • where the deceased person was under the age of 18, the name and address of a parent of the deceased person; or another person who had parental responsibility for the deceased person;
  • the name of any consultant medical practitioner who attended the deceased person during the period beginning with the fourteenth day before death and ending with the person's death;
  • any further information deemed to be relevant.

Even if a medical practitioner is aware that someone other than a medical practitioner has reported the death to the coroner, they must still make a notification under the Regulations.

Forbes comment

Medical practitioners are now bound by a legal duty to report deaths to the senior coroner in certain prescribed circumstances, and as a result we should see less regional variation. As of 1st October 2019, any previous local guidance should be disregarded and medical practitioners should act only in accordance with the new regulations. Those who fail to notify a relevant death could face disciplinary action or if the failure to report a death was intentional, police involvement.

Our highly experienced and specialist inquest team can provide advice and guidance on the new regulations and any other matters relating to coroner investigations and inquests.

Our highly experienced and specialist Inquest team can provide advice and guidance on the Inquest process and any associated matters. For further advice contact Ridwaan Omar via email or phone on 01254 222457 or Lucy Harris via email or phone on 01254 222443.

Source - Chief Coroner Guidance

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