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A Death in Hospital

1. When someone dies in hospital (or having just left it) it is easy to overlook the necessity for notifying the local coroner. Why have an inquest? Is the cause of death not known?

2. Possibly not. In any event Section 18 (4) of the Coroners Act 1962 sets out the legal obligations following on the death of a person.

“18… (4) Every medical practitioner, registrar of deaths or funeral undertaker and every occupier of a house or mobile dwelling, and every person in charge of any institution or premises, in which a deceased person was residing at the time of his death, who has reason to believe that the deceased person died, either directly or indirectly, as a result of violence or misadventure or by unfair means, or as a result of negligence or misconduct or malpractice on the part of others, or from any cause other than natural illness or disease for which he had been seen and treated by a registered medical practitioner within one month before his death, or in such circumstances as may require investigation (including death as the result of the administration of an anaesthetic), shall immediately notify the coroner within whose district the body of the deceased person is lying of the facts and circumstances relating to the death.”

3. It is the obligation of the coroner to consider whether to hold an inquest or not. Usually he/she will. The Act provides:

“17. —Subject to the provisions of this Act, where a coroner is informed that the body of a deceased person is lying within his district, it shall be the duty of the coroner to hold an inquest in relation to the death of that person if he is of opinion that the death may have occurred in a violent or unnatural manner, or suddenly and from unknown causes or in a place or in circumstances which, under provisions in that behalf contained in any other enactment, require that an inquest should be held.”

4. The writer has encountered a case where a death occurred in a major hospital in Dublin due to medical negligence. The Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages was notified of the death by “the occupier” of the hospital – one of the hospital porters!

5. The coroner was not notified by the hospital authorities (of any level). If the coroner is not notified he/she cannot know of the death and the need for the inquest.

6. The Act permits any person to notify the coroner of a death.