Jeremy Hunt urges hospitals quickly appoint medical examiners before April deadline

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has urged NHS hospitals to quickly appoint medical examiners after a survey revealed that a majority of NHS trusts have yet to establish the key posts before the April deadline.

In 2018, Mr Hunt announced a nation-wide roll-out of medical examiners who would independently investigate hospital deaths in an effort to improve patient safety in the NHS.

However, following a Freedom of Information request, Mr Hunt found that half of 103 hospitals had not yet appointed a medical examiner, two did not know what a medical examiner was and one assumed the survey referred to medical-student examinations.

Writing for The Independent, Mr Hunt said he feared that the NHS was not taking the policy seriously enough.

“It is vital that NHS hospitals … get on with appointing (medical examiners) as a matter of urgency,” he wrote.

“Medical examiners are doctors who look at every hospital death with a fresh pair of eyes to make an independent judgment about what took place.

“It is impossible to overestimate the importance of their role.”

The need for medical examiners was first recommended in 2005 following a four-year inquiry into serial killer Harold Shipman, who is believed to have used lethal doses of morphine to kill more than 200 patients.

Since 2008, medical examiner pilot schemes found that, out of 27,000 deaths, one in four hospital death certificates were inaccurate and one in five causes of death were wrong.

Mr Hunt said where they have been introduced, medical examiners have been “transformational”.

He added that “every time a major scandal surfaces, the government and NHS leaders promise families who have suffered unimaginable pain, ‘never again’.

“That promise has been broken too many times. This is our chance to make it right.”

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