To ask the Secretary of State for Health
(1) what steps he is taking to ensure that sufficient pathologists are trained to carry out specialist examinations on deceased children; (2) how many such pathologists are available in each Government Office region; and (3) if he will make a statement;
(2) if he will take steps to assist coroners in the South West in locating child pathologists to carry out specialist examinations on deceased children for the purposes of an inquest.
The Department has worked closely with the Royal College of Pathologists to increase the number of paediatric pathologists in the national health service. Funding has been available for a Conversion Fellowship scheme to enable existing pathology consultants to retrain as paediatric pathologists to increase numbers in the short-term and this was vigorously promoted by the Royal College of Pathologists. However, the Conversion Fellowships were not taken up.
However the number of trainee paediatric pathologists has risen slightly in the last few years. The Royal College of Pathologists' Paediatric Pathology Specialist Advisory Committee anticipates that any difficulties will be largely resolved as the extra trainees become qualified in the next year or two and long-term service needs will be met. Paediatric pathology will remain a specialised service and ways of working in the specialty are changing to reflect this. Paediatric pathology is developing in a smaller number of specialist centres to focus resources where there will be adequate expertise and support. We understand that coroners, including in the South West, are aware of where paediatric pathologists are currently located and are able to contact them. We have asked officials from the Department to discuss with their counterparts at the Ministry of Justice the information currently provided to coroners about the availability of paediatric pathologists.
The Department does not collect data centrally about the number of paediatric pathologists in England. 2007 data from the Royal College of Pathologists show a total of 40 paediatric/perinatal pathology posts in England.