Inquests into coronavirus deaths among NHS workers should avoid examining systemic failures in provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), coroners have been told, in a move described by Labour as “very worrying”.
The chief coroner for England and Wales, Mark Lucraft QC, has issued guidance that “an inquest would not be a satisfactory means of deciding whether adequate general policies and arrangements were in place for provision of PPE to healthcare workers”.
Lucraft said that “if there were reason to suspect that some human failure contributed to the person being infected with the virus”, an inquest may be required. The coroner “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 added: “An inquest is not the right forum for addressing concerns about high-level government or public policy.”
Labour warned the advice could limit the scope of investigations into the impact of PPE shortages on frontline staff who have died from COVID-19.
“I am very worried that an impression is being given that coroners will never investigate whether a failure to provide PPE led to the death of a key worker,” said Lord Falconer, the shadow attorney general. “This guidance may have an unduly restricting effect on the width of inquests arising out of Covid-19-related deaths.”
Source: The Guardian, 29 April 2020