A new statutory medical examiner system is being rolled out in England and Wales from April 2024 to provide independent scrutiny of all deaths that aren’t referred to the coroner. 

Medical examiners review medical records and work with doctors to complete a medical certificate of the cause of death (MCCD), commonly known as the death certificate. They talk to the family about their experience of care and discuss and agree the proposed MCCD with them. The MCCD must be completed before the death can be registered and the body released to the family.

What happens at the moment?

Currently, all hospitals have independent medical examiner offices that focus on the certification of deaths that occur in those hospitals. From April, the role of these offices will be legally extended to examine all deaths, except those that need to be referred to a coroner. Deaths that need to be referred to a coroner include unnatural deaths or those where the cause of death is unknown.

Previously, when someone died in the community – for example at home, in a care home or in a hospice – and that death was expected, a doctor involved in their care completed the MCCD, which was then forwarded to the register office to register the death.

What is changing?

In April 2024 the Government is planning to change the law so that when someone dies in the commmunity, the death must be referred to the medical examiner before a death certificate can be provided.

This extra step will strengthen safeguards by reviewing how people have died and making sure only the appropriate cases are referred to coroners.

Importantly, it will also give bereaved families the chance to ask questions or raise concerns, and so will help identify concerns and improve care for patients and bereaved people. It is also an opportunity to give positive feedback about the care a patient has received. This can be passed back to the teams and also helps identify good practice that can be shared with colleagues.

Medical examiners already carry out this function in many cases, as they have been preparing for the change in the law since it was first announced in 2022. They have been working with colleagues in GP practices, coroner and registrars’ offices and bereavement services to make sure that the new arrangement works smoothly and does not cause delays for the bereaved at such a difficult time for families.

How you can help

We understand how important it is for bereaved families to be able to make funeral or other arrangements as quickly as possible and are committed to minimising any disruption. 

This is a national change in the law, but we would like to know if you have any questions or concerns about how the new system will work in West Yorkshire or if you need any more information about it. 

To help to make sure the new process works as well as possible, we would like to hear from you about any worries or concerns you might have about the changes. We also want to give people the chance to tell us about things we should consider, and to ask any questions you might have. 

There is more information and answers to frequently asked questions below. When you have read the information, please complete this short survey.