Social work and end-of-life care

Social work is important in end-of-life care

Archive for June 2012

Inquests, the Right to Life and bereavement

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Article 2(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights requires states to protect peoples’ right to life. Mainly it does this through inquests, and there’s been a lot of controversy recently about how these are organised, because some coroners have been upsetting the government by criticising how they looked after people in the armed forces. They tried to get inquests involving ‘national security’ (i.e.anything that embarrasses the government) shifted behind closed doors, but got shot down in flames. A Daily Mail article sums up the debate, quoting the British Legion as saying that open investigation of deaths is important for bereaved people: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2112409/Inquests-MUST-open-says-British-Legion-chief-fears-secret-justice-plans-compound-grief-bereaved.html.

Social workers coming across people who don’t really understand why their loved one died are only too well aware of the importance of this. I’ve often had to deal years later with wives, sons and daughters who didn’t really understand what happened. When they come up against an anniversary or an important transition in their own lives, the whole issue is triggered again, and it may be so much later that no useful information can be provided. Better to have it sorted out at the time, even if this seems to be stringing out the death or delving into detail which is not needed.

There has also been controversy about whether or not to have a Chief Coroner, as proposed in Labour legislation, which the ConDems tried to squish on grounds of cost in their bonfire of quangos. However, there were protests, and a guy has been appointed (see a Guardian article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2012/may/22/new-chief-coroner-appointed?INTCMP=SRCH_). It remains to be seen how it all goes on, because not a lot of money is being spent improving the state of play.

A useful article by Robert Tobin on a legal website looks at inquests into hospital deaths, where medical or service negligence may be an issue. Simple negligence does not necessarily lead to an ‘enhanced’ inquiry under Article 2 (a ‘Middleton inquest’) but gorss negligence or negligence where a patient is held in a secure mental health facility is akin to deaths in police custody and should trigger a more comprehensive investigation. Healthcare organisations have to move quickly to establish an independent investigation in these circumstances.

See Tobin’s article at: http://www.kennedys-law.com/article/hospitalinquestsarticle2/)

You can see the government guidance on inquests and coroners at: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/governmentcitizensandrights/death/whattodoafteradeath/dg_066713 (England)

and on: http://www.courtsni.gov.uk/en-GB/Services/Coroners/Pages/default.aspx (Northern Ireland)

If you want more detailed information, there’s a government guide to the coroner’s service and charter for how inquests are supposed to be conducted here: http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/burials-and-coroners/guide-charter-coroner.pdf

The independent charity Inquest provides an advice service for bereaved people and campaigns on inquest issues: http://www.inquest.org.uk/. They provide a comprehensive online handbook: look on the left-hand side of the Home page.

Written by Malcolm Payne

21 June 2012 at 3:05 pm