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Support for new death certificate law

21 January 2011

Proposals for a new scrutiny system for death certificates, to increase quality and confidence in the system, have been backed by the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee in its stage 1 report on the bill, published today.

The Certification of Death (Scotland) Bill, introduced by the Scottish Government, would create the new posts of medical reviewer and senior medical reviewer, whose role would be to review a proportion of "medical certificates of the cause of death" (MCCDs) for accuracy.

The committee recommends that the general principles of the Bill be agreed, while raising a number of concerns, including that the new system could prove less rigorous than the existing arrangements.

Committee convener Christine Grahame MSP said: "It is essential that the public has confidence in the system, both in terms of accurately recording public health data and identifying possible cases of medical negligence or criminal activity."

She added that the committee was particularly interested in the role of technology in achieving these aims.

Other findings of the report include:

  • On the proposed random sample of scrutiny of death certificates, there should be a more rigorous statistical analysis of the sample to increase confidence in the detection and investigation of unnatural death and help detect criminal activity, for example by a serial killer;
  • to ensure the accurate recording of death, there should be either be an experience qualification or junior doctors should not be allowed to sign a death certificate without having completed training;
  • where a death occurs abroad, assessment of the validity of documentation should be carried out centrally;
  • the abolition of the higher fee relating to cremation only is welcomed, in favour of a lower and universal fee also covering burial.

Ms Grahame added: “The new system should not unduly delay the disposal of a body as this would cause practical difficulties for faith groups, remote communities and organ donation and the bill should be amended to address these matters.”

Click here to view the committee's report.


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