Death certificates signed by GPs face added scrutiny to root out malpractice

Death certificates will be subject to extra layers of scrutiny following reforms that aim to prevent cases such as that of serial killer GP Dr Harold Shipman escaping detection in future.

All death certificates will be scrutinised by a medical examiner and discussed with family members of the deceased to ensure information is correct and to flag any indications of malpractice or clinical governance issues, the DH has announced.

Medical examiners will assess the patient’s medical certificate of cause of death (MCCD) alongside their medical records to pinpoint any inaccuracies or suspect information.

If they deem something to be incorrect, they will discuss this with the doctor who signed the MCCD to agree changes.

The changes come after the DH concluded existing arrangements for death certification are ‘confusing’ and ‘provide inadequate safeguards’.

The new system, to be introduced from April 2018, will allow any emerging patterns in a doctor’s practice that could cause for concern to be exposed, it added.

Death certificates

It comes partly in response to the actions of GP serial killer Dr Harold Shipman, confirmed to have murdered over 200 patients through the 1970s to the 1990s. He relied on others having no reason to question the death certificates he signed to get away with his crimes.

It also follows inquiries into deaths and practices at Mid Staffordshire and Southern Health NHS Foundation Trusts, which showed that reporting and investigations could have prevented many deaths.

‘All deaths will be scrutinised in a robust and proportionate way, regardless of whether they are followed by burial or cremation, making the system fairer,’ a DH overview into the reforms said.

It added: ‘This will strengthen safeguards for the public and ensure that the right deaths are referred to a coroner.’

Photo: iStock

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