11th November 2012
Alison Cox MBE, Chief Executive and Founder of CRY, comments on the investigations into the failings of the Teesside Coroners Service
As Chief Executive of Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), I was delighted and extremely reassured to hear the first outcomes from the recent ‘scrutiny panel’ held by Middlesbrough Council earlier this week (Wed 31 October 2012).
We were alerted to the situation and horrendous delays being experienced by many bereaved families in the area, by local mother, Sue Ainsworth (right). Sue lost her son, Jonathan, in April 2010 from a previously undiagnosed heart condition, aged just 21; but the family had to wait an agonising 8 months for the local coroner’s service to arrange an inquest, where the results were still found to be incomplete.
A specialist fast track expert cardiac pathology service funded by CRY – which at least 80% of the UK’s coroners regularly refer cases to – reviews and returns the heart for burial within 2 weeks, in cases of suspected sudden cardiac death.
Since Jonathan’s inquest, Sue has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the failings of Teesside’s Coroners Service and has become a loyal and very proactive supporter of CRY, playing a key part in our 2011 campaign to fight against proposed cuts to the Coroners Service. Thankfully, a last minute U-turn in November last year, by the then Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, reinstated the role of Chief Coroner and ensured other areas of this ancient service were protected.
However, the problems in Teesside remained, prompting the recent scrutiny panel, ahead of an investigation by the Office of Judicial Complaints
We are pleased to report that as well as immediately addressing the disturbing length of time that some families are having to wait (often up to a year, just to get a date for an inquest) the panel has recommended that when a case of sudden adult death occurs, siblings will be referred to specialist cardiac screening. This is vitally important and a huge breakthrough in the region.
It is totally unacceptable for relatives to endure an extensive wait for a cause of death. Such inefficiencies can breed terrible tragedies, particularly when other family members are potentially at risk of a genetic condition and delay could have catastrophic consequences.
No-one can understand the pain and total devastation of losing a child or partner at a young age suddenly and without warning. Although the days and months that follow are often a blur, families still need answers and they need them fast. As I have said before, the dead cannot speak for themselves and the bereaved are often too distraught to do so.
So finally, I say well done to Sue and other local campaigners for the work they have done to force this review. Now that the UK finally has a Chief Coroner in place, CRY hopes that these discrepancies we have witnessed in the North East and the ‘postcode lottery’ that still exists in some parts of the Coroners Service, will become a thing of the past.”