The Ministry of Justice is improving the way deaths are reported to the coroner
By Travis Krautz, Ministry of Justice
27 April 2023
Each month general practitioners, nurse practitioners, hospital doctors, and police report about 500 deaths to the coroner. About half of these go on to be further investigated by coroners, while the others are deemed straightforward natural cause deaths and can be signed off by the reporting practitioner.
For doctors and nurse practitioners in primary care, the main method for both reporting a death and seeking guidance when a report is required has been by contacting the National Initial Investigation Office (NIIO). Although useful in many situations, this can sometimes lead to multiple follow-up phone calls which slows down the process.
A new Report to Coroner feature will be available within digital tool Death Documents from 20 April 2023. This will enable medical practitioners in all care settings to report a death to the coroner and to include the relevant clinical issues.
The Report to Coroner feature will use ‘smart logic’ questions to determine whether the coroner should be involved in the death or whether a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) can be issued appropriately. Plain language definitions of legal terms alongside relevant questions can also be accessed while completing the report.
By placing the Report to Coroner feature within Death Documents, if a report is made but later is deemed unnecessary on advice from the coroner, the report can be easily converted to an MCCD within Death Documents.
Led by the Ministry of Justice, in close collaboration with Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand and the Department of Internal Affairs, the Report to Coroner feature will improve the way information is received by the coroner, ensuring relevant details of the death and the circumstances leading up to it at an early stage. Having these details can assist coroners to make prompt decisions and help ensure whānau do not have to engage with the coronial services needlessly, preventing avoidable stress to bereaved families and whānau during an already difficult time.
Dr Garry Clearwater, Chief Clinical Advisor with the Ministry of Justice’s Coronial Services Unit notes that the Report to Coroner feature will help to improve clarity for the professionals who are responsible for reporting deaths to the coroner.
“The Report to Coroner feature within Death Documents is a major step forward in assisting our coroners to receive the information that they need to make important decisions. For practitioners who are considering reporting a death to the coroner, the aim is to provide a user-friendly system that provides more convenience and greater confidence in how to use the system appropriately,” says Dr Clearwater.
Additional guidance for doctors and nurse practitioners will also be provided on the Coronial Services of New Zealand webpages. This will support doctors and nurse practitioners to understand which deaths should be reported to the coroner, and which should not.