DAUK in the BMJ: Covid-19: Coroners needn’t investigate PPE policy failures in deaths of NHS staff, new guidance says

“Coroners have been issued with new guidance on covid-19 deaths steering them away from investigating policy failures in the provision of protective equipment in the workplace.1

The guidance from Mark Lucraft QC, chief coroner for England and Wales, has been questioned by lawyers specialising in inquest law and described as “profoundly unwise” by the shadow attorney general, Charles Falconer.

The guidance on covid-19 deaths and possible exposure in the workplace came as the number of deaths of frontline healthcare workers from the virus rose to more than 100. Many workers say that they have had to work with inadequate supplies as the government has struggled to source enough personal protective equipment (PPE).

Rinesh Parmar, chair of the Doctors Association UK, told the chief coroner in a letter, “The guidance you have issued appears to be contrary to the legal requirements imposed on coroners by statute.”

He added, “We are extremely concerned by your suggestion that coronavirus deaths of healthcare workers will not usually require investigation. We believe that it may deny grieving families the answers to which they are entitled.

“Unless inquests are opened in each case, vital evidence in relation to that individual case will not be preserved and the opportunity to find out what went wrong will be lost irretrievably. We invite you to review your guidance and to amend it to ensure that it properly reflects the legal position and that these bereaved families receive access to the investigative procedures to which they are entitled.”