The Government has just released the details of the number of deaths reported to Coroners in 2020, and somewhat surprisingly the number is the lowest since 1995 when statistics were first collated annually.
Given that 2020 has seen an excess of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic and unprecedented pressure of the NHS you would expect that the figures would be much higher. However, in the Coronavirus 2020 Act, the government changed legislation on the reporting requirements and death certification process which has resulted in less deaths being reported to the Coroner. Most deaths in 2020 were attributed to natural causes.
It appears that the number of referrals to a Coroner may have been more appropriate as the number of inquests opened increased by 7% in 2020. 205,400 deaths were reported to a Coroner and 32,000 inquests were opened. This appears to show that a referral, upon review by a Coroner, resulted in a decision to open the inquest more often that previous years.
As anticipated by those working in this area of law, the number of concluded inquests has fallen. There is a large backlog of inquests that have been opened but not listed for final hearings owing to the ongoing restrictions impeding court hearings. Families are continuing to struggle with the fact that the process is not concluded and they have been unable to find the answers they are seeking about their loved one’s death.
The concern for clinical negligence solicitors, is that failings in care, particularly in hospitals and care homes, are often identified by family members. Following a death, it is the family that insist on a referral to the Coroner that results in an inquest being opened. The restricted visiting may have led to families being less informed and being unable to raise concerns that they may have previously.
Hugh James represents many families that have been waiting for prolonged periods to conclude an inquest and it is hoped that Coroners will now be starting to list more complex and longer inquests in person to allow families the opportunity to draw a line under the inquest process.
For further information or advice, visit the Inquests page.