Coronavirus: Healthcare worker inquests won't look at Government PPE policy

29 April 2020, 21:51

File photo: A temporary structure is built in the grounds of Westminster Coroners Court, to expand the mortuary's capacity during the Coronavirus outbreak
File photo: A temporary structure is built in the grounds of Westminster Coroners Court, to expand the mortuary's capacity during the Coronavirus outbreak. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Inquests into the deaths of healthcare workers would not be the right place to address concerns on whether Government policy on the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) was adequate, the chief coroner has said.

Mark Lucraft QC said the scope of inquests should not extend to addressing concerns around public policy.

Guidance has been issued to coroners on dealing with coronavirus deaths and possible exposure in the workplace.

An inquest might be needed if a death is suspected of being due to Covid-19 and could consider failures in the workplace which may have contributed to it.

More than 100 frontline NHS and care workers are confirmed to have died during the pandemic.

Mr Lucraft said: "If the coroner decides to open an investigation, then he or she may need to consider whether any failures of precautions in a particular workplace caused the deceased to contract the virus and so contributed to death.”

But he said: "Coroners are reminded that an inquest is not the right forum for addressing concerns about high level Government or public policy.

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"The higher courts have repeatedly commented that a coroner's inquest is not usually the right forum for such issues of general policy to be resolved.

"An inquest would not be a satisfactory means of deciding whether adequate general policies and arrangements were in place for provision of personal protective equipment to healthcare workers in the country or a part of it."

A coroner can however suspend an inquest in order for further inquiries to be made into matters including the adequacy of provision of PPE for clinicians in a particular hospital or department, he added.

Jo Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project, said he feels the guidance for coroners is right, but that wider issues on PPE shortages could potentially be addressed by a public inquiry.

He said: "It's not impossible that the Government has a legal obligation to hold a public inquiry and that's something Good Law Project is looking into."

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