27 May 2021

Report from the House of Commons Justice Select Committee highlights shortage of pathologists to carry out post-mortem examinations.

The college has welcomed the House of Commons Justice Select Committee Report on the Coroner Service. 

Dr Mike Osborn, College President and former Chair of the Death Investigation Committee, gave evidence to the Justice committee in September 2020. He spoke alongside the Coroners’ Society highlighting the shortage of pathologists to carry out post-mortems. The College also provided written evidence to the inquiry.

We are pleased that the report contains the following recommendations from the Justice Committee to address the shortage of pathology services:

  • The Ministry of Justice should immediately review and increase Coroner Service fees for pathologists, so they are enough to ensure an adequate supply of pathology services to the Coroner Service. (Paragraph 135)
  • In the medium term the Ministry of Justice should work with the Department of Health and Social Care so that pathologists’ work for coroners is planned for within pathologists’ contracts with NHS trusts. (Paragraph 136)
  • In the longer term, the Ministry of Justice should broker an agreement between relevant government departments and the NHS (in England and Wales) for the establishment and co-funding of 12–15 regional pathology centres of excellence. (Paragraph 137)

Dr Mike Osborn, President, The Royal College of Pathologists, said:

‘There is a significant shortage of pathologists to carry out coronial post-mortems. This deficit has several causes. Coronial post-mortems fall outside of consultants’ hospital trust contracts and are rarely included in consultants’ job plans. This means that pathologists have to schedule post-mortems outside of their NHS work.

Shortages in pathologists to carry out post-mortem examinations have a direct effect on services for the bereaved and their relatives. The current shortage of pathologists, particularly in respect of coronial autopsies, is of great concern. It is vital that post-mortem services, and the accurate investigation and certification of death, are seen as part of the wider patient safety landscape.’