Bereaved families could face delays

Bereaved families could face the distress of having to delay making funeral arrangements after the council introduced a random review of death certificates.

At Wigtown Area Committee’s monthly meeting on Wednesday in Stranraer, elected members heard about the “major changes” to this sensitive procedure from a Dumfries and Galloway Council officer and insisted that bereaved families be made aware of the new legislation.

In the wake of the Shipman Inquiry, Public Health Scotland can now randomly select death certificates at any registration office in Scotland for a medical review.

There are two levels of review, the first is expected to be completed within one day but the second stage can take three days to complete, meaning grieving families are left waiting.

The new legislation came into effect in May and, to date, there have been 21 stage one and seven stage two death certificate reviews in Dumfries and Galloway.

Mid Galloway Councillor Jim McColm commented: “I am concerned about the distress this could cause families as they will be left with the uncertainty of when they can contact an undertaker and get funeral intimations put out.

“This adds to difficulties as people often have to come from a distance or ask for time off work to attend a funeral.”

When a death occurs in Scotland, a doctor must certify that a person is dead by completing a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) which is then generally given to a family member who will make an appointment with a registrar and register the death.

“The potential now exists for the death certificate to be randomly selected by a computer for a review.

Gordon Leckie, from Alex McCleary Funeral Directors said: “This can be very upsetting for the families if they are the ones chosen when they go to register the death. It also holds things up for us as we can’t book anything until the review is completed.

“I do understand the reasons why this was introduced and I know the doctors in this area are very good at explaining to families, as we do, that this might happen.”

A Scottish Government Spokesperson said: “The review service checks on the accuracy of a sample of Medical Certificates of Cause of Death (MCCDs).

“Our reviews are designed to improve the accuracy of MCCDs; provide better quality information about causes of death so that health services can be better prepared for the future, and ensure that the processes around death certification are robust and have appropriate safeguards in place.”