Alison Cox MBE, Chief Executive and Founder of CRY, comments on the proposed modernisation of the coroners’ service in England and Wales
As a charity that has campaigned for several years for drastic improvements to the coroners’ service in England and Wales, we greatly welcome the appointment of the new Chief Coroner and the series of changes and improvements he has pledged to implement.
Tragically, at CRY we annually support hundreds of newly bereaved parents, partners and their families, who have lost a child, partner or sibling – often with no warning and very little explanation. Mostly their loss has been treated with sensitivity and urgency, with coroners referring the cases to expert, fast track pathologists who are able to determine a cause of death quickly, ensuring other family members can be assessed and screened once the underlying – and usually genetic – condition has been determined.
However, there have been many other cases where families have had to wait for months before a funeral can be held and sometimes up to a year before a cause of death can be established, which significantly exacerbates their suffering.
A verdict of ‘natural causes’ accompanied by a narrative clarifying the probable cause of death can be devastating for a bereaved family that do not understand the limited verdicts that are available for the coroner to choose from. There is nothing ‘natural’ about the death of an apparently fit and healthy young person from an undiagnosed heart condition and coroners are now aware of the importance of including the narrative details of the death supplied by the expert cardiac pathologist, that directs the family as to what to do next.
A family we have supported at CRY since 2001 – following the sudden death of their son – has only just won a protracted 11 year battle to have the results of his original inquest overturned and the correct cause of death recorded. This came after another member of the family was identified with the same condition.
I am confident that the first Chief Coroner for England and Wales, Judge Peter Thornton QC, will now oversee a modernised and significantly improved service appropriate for the 21st century, with all coroners benefitting from mandatory training and transparent processes in place that ensure reducing the suffering of the bereaved is at the critical core of the coronial process.
Those of us involved in the care and support of bereaved families will trust this confirms an end to the inconsistencies and ‘postcode lottery’ that has been so destructive in the past.
Alison Cox MBE