Post-mortem Reports (Maximum Waiting Time)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 6 December 2023.

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Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

3. To ask the Scottish Government what its position is regarding the maximum time that a family should be expected to wait for a post-mortem report following the death of a loved one. (S6O-02840)

The Lord Advocate (Dorothy Bain KC):

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is committed to providing bereaved families with final confirmation of the cause of death of a loved one as soon as that information is available. In relation to deaths that require further investigation, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service aims to conduct and conclude the investigation and advise the nearest relative of the outcome within 12 weeks of receipt of the death report in 80 per cent of cases.

Some investigations take longer to establish a final cause of death because of the circumstances of the fatality and the nature of the tests that are required to allow the pathologist to make a final determination. Where that is the situation, nearest relatives are provided with updates on progress and estimated timescales for the completion of the tests.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I thank the Lord Advocate for that answer but, of course, families are not always provided with regular updates or timescales. Does she agree that waiting for more than seven months for a post-mortem report is completely unacceptable? If so, how many families in Scotland have waited for seven months or more? After such a time, is it appropriate to tell a family that it is a matter that

“we are currently considering and on which we hope to reach a decision shortly”?

The Lord Advocate:

If Mr Gibson has a particular case and circumstances that he wishes to bring to my attention for me to comment on, I am more than happy to do so. I invite him to contact my office and request a meeting with me individually. I would be pleased to meet him.

The factors that might cause a delay to a cause of death being established very much depend on the circumstances surrounding the death. The pathologist who has conducted a post-mortem examination might require a number of further investigations to be completed, including further toxicological analysis and input from, for example, other experts in the fields of neuropathology or histopathology. The findings of all those inquiries must then be carefully considered before a cause of death can be confirmed.

In a small number of cases in which further investigations cannot be progressed in Scotland, specialist facilities elsewhere might require to be approached to assist, and that might result in a delay in the final cause of death being established.

Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Conservative

An HM Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland report is highly critical of pathology services in Scotland, while the chair of the deaths in prison custody action group says that only the Crown Office thinks that the fatal accident inquiry system is effective. Many families have told me that they have no faith in how the deaths of loved ones are investigated, yet the Scottish National Party Government is complacent. Will the Lord Advocate therefore consider families’ calls to transfer these vital functions to a new body that is transparent, accountable and independent of the Crown Office?

The Lord Advocate:

Mr Findlay’s question relates to fatal accident inquiries, and that issue is distinct from the one that I am being asked to respond to today. However, Mr Findlay also raised issues about the quality of the pathology service in Scotland. I can respond to that by explaining that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is the client and the recipient of forensic pathology services in Scotland, which allows procurators fiscal to discharge their death investigation duties on behalf of the Lord Advocate. The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service would support any improvements to the death investigation process that would minimise the distress caused to families without affecting the thoroughness of the investigation, including the confirmation of a cause of death.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I am aware that there is an issue with microphones, including mine and those on the front benches. Broadcasting staff are looking at the issue. It is not affecting broadcasting, but it is clearly not helping the audio in the chamber. The issue is being investigated and I propose to continue for the time being.

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

Post-mortem scanners, which have been trialled in Lancashire, have been reported to decrease the time that is taken to receive post-mortem results and, in certain cases, to remove the need for an invasive post-mortem and the removal of organs. What discussion has the Scottish Government had with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service regarding the potential time-saving qualities of post-mortem scanners in Scotland?

The Lord Advocate:

I am not in a position to respond to the specific issue that has been raised, but significant efforts have been made by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the Scottish Police Authority and pathologists to reduce the time that is taken to provide final reports to families and to consider wider improvements to the way in which pathology services are delivered. The Crown Office regularly meets the current pathology providers to discuss and seek to resolve any on-going issues and to identify any improvements to the quality of the service that can be provided for nearest relatives.

The Crown Office has a series of contracts and service level agreements with universities, local authorities and national health service pathology, mortuary and toxicology services across Scotland. The current pathology contract extensions are, in the main, in place until the end of March 2024. Work is on-going with all pathology providers on a service redesign to streamline the nature and number of contracts to ensure resilience and efficiency through negotiation and service co-design.

The need for improvement has been identified, and I can provide further information on the specific issue relating to scanners after today in—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you.

Question 4 has been withdrawn. Question 5 was not lodged. I call Ivan McKee to ask question 6.