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Blow for victims' relatives as health officials say there is 'no benefit' in notifying coroner of Covid-19 deaths

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Health officials have said there is "no benefit" in making all Covid-19 deaths notifiable to the coroner. Stock image posed by models

Health officials have said there is "no benefit" in making all Covid-19 deaths notifiable to the coroner. Stock image posed by models

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Health officials have said there is "no benefit" in making all Covid-19 deaths notifiable to the coroner. Stock image posed by models

Health officials have said there is "no benefit" in making all Covid-19 deaths notifiable to the coroner.

It is a blow for relatives seeking answers around how someone died, particularly in care homes.

Although the virus is categorised as notifiable under law, meaning instances of diagnosis must be reported to government authorities, deaths are not.

The position adopted means the coroner is not required to be alerted to any Covid-19 deaths as these are considered "natural".

Coronavirus Data Graphs

The enquiry around notification came in the midst of an investigation to ascertain if Covid-19 would be declared a Healthcare Acquired Infection (HCAI), which has become all the more pressing given the increase of outbreaks and deaths in care homes.

Non-notification in these instances causes difficulty in establishing whether death was preventable, for example, by not introducing Covid-19 into the facility through untested hospital discharges and appropriate infection control, PPE and the associated guidance around its use.

On May 1, a departmental spokesperson said: "Coronavirus is already a notifiable disease.

"Section 7 of The Coroners Act (NI) 1959 sets out clearly the circumstances in which a medical practitioner has a duty to report a death to the coroner in Northern Ireland. There is no requirement for a doctor to notify the coroner of a Covid-19 death unless there is reason to do so under section 7 of the Act."

The department later added: "There would be no benefit in making COVID-19 'deaths' notifiable."

As coroners investigate deaths reported to them, without automatic notification of Covid-19 deaths in care homes, it is unlikely there would be an inquest.

A spokesperson for the Coroners Service said: "It is a matter of government policy which deaths are notifiable."

The Department pointed to its guidance specific to Covid-19 regarding deaths, published on March 31 and updated on April 23. There is no information or guidance for bereaved relatives seeking answers on their loved one's death.


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