Who are medical examiners and medical examiner officers?
Since 2019, some senior NHS doctors have chosen to receive specialist training and to spend some of their time working as medical examiners. Alongside other specially trained staff, their job is to give independent advice about what caused deaths (except for deaths which have to be reviewed by a coroner).
Medical examiners and their staff (usually called medical examiner officers) offer families and carers of the person who has died an opportunity to raise questions or concerns about the causes of death, or about the care the person received before their death. This will usually be through a telephone call, or sometimes a meeting. They can explain what medical language means, and make it easier to understand. Medical examiners also look at the relevant medical records, and discuss the causes of death with the doctor filling in the official form (its official name is the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death).
You can be confident medical examiners and their staff will provide an independent view, as they will only work on deaths of people where they or their staff have not provided care for the patient.
When the coroner starts an investigation into a death, the coroner (not the medical examiner) investigates the death independently, though the medical examiner may still provide expert medical advice to the coroner. Some deaths must be notified to the coroner – you can read about this here - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/notification-of-deaths-regulations-2019-guidance. You can also get the guidance in other formats by emailing the Ministry of Justice at email@example.com (this is the part of the government responsible for the guidance).
Why am I being asked if I have any concerns?
A discussion with the medical examiners office team provides you with an opportunity to have an open and honest conversation with someone who was not involved in providing care to the person who died. It could be as simple as helping you to understand more about the treatment and cause of death or to understand the medical language used. There may be something about the care which did not feel was right or ideal. This is an opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns.
The medical examiner will provide an independent view of the cause of death and the care provided. The team will discuss your thoughts, questions and concerns. If they find issues with care that needs further investigation, they will refer these to someone who can do this. As well as answering your questions, this can help the NHS provide better care for other patients and families / carers in future. For example, by looking at ways that patient and family care could be improved.
Can I ask the medical examiner to talk to someone else if it’s too difficult for me to speak with them?
Yes of course. When the medical examiner contacts you just make them aware of this and who else you would like them to speak to.
What questions will I be asked?
The medical examiner or their staff will explain what is written on the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death and why. This is to check if you have any questions or concerns. They will also discuss the medical examiner’s review and ask if there are any concerns or questions about the care the person received before their death. This is the best time for you to ask any questions you have about the death and to speak about anything that concerns you.
What will happen if something was not right?
The medical examiner and their staff are here to listen to your questions and concerns, provide answers if possible and, if necessary, pass them on to someone who can investigate further. Medical examiners will not investigate further themselves as they must complete their work within set time limits for the death certification process.
Will funeral plans or release of the body take longer?
Medical examiners make every effort to avoid any delays and work with families and carers of the person who died to meet the legal requirements for registering deaths. The team will try to be flexible, for example where relatives need access to the body, or release of the body quickly.
What can I do if I have questions or concerns about the medical examiner process?
If you are not satisfied with the medical examiner’s advice, we suggest you discuss this with staff from the medical examiner’s office first. If you are still not satisfied, you can also contact the Advice and Complaints Team:
Advice and Complaints Service
Sunderland Royal Hospital
Sunderland SR4 7TP
Telephone: 0191 569 9855 or Freephone 0800 587 6513
Opening times: Monday-Friday 8:30am - 5pm
Medical Examiner (Support Officer contact details):
(0191) 202 4006