Reporting of Covid-19 deaths to Procurator Fiscal

The Lord Advocate is making a statement to Parliament today (13 May) at 2.15, to announce that he will issue guidance to the effect that the following deaths should be reported  to the Procurator Fiscal:

(a) the deaths of any care home residents due to COVID-19 or presumed COVID-19 and

(b) any deaths due to COVID-19 or presumed COVID-19 where the virus may have been contracted in the course of the deceased’s employment.  Whilst not exhaustive, this will include deaths of care home workers, frontline NHS workers and emergency services personnel.

According to current guidance on reporting deaths to COPFS, one of the functions of reporting deaths to the Procurator Fiscal is to provide additional scrutiny where the circumstances of the death may cause public anxiety. The rationale for this proposed change is to clarify that two categories of deaths from COVID-19 fall within that remit, to enable reporting of these, and to ensure that they can be investigated as appropriate, with a view to assisting in allaying any public anxiety which may exist.

Once COPFS have clarified guidance and decided on a date for implementation, the Chief Medical Officer will issue a letter to all doctors, informing them of this change and highlighting where guidance is available.

Scottish Care welcomes the announcement that the Lord Advocate will use his powers to investigate all deaths of staff who in the course of their work for the NHS, emergency services, care providers and others may have contracted COVID-19.

We further welcome that consideration of deaths which occur in care homes should fall under this category.

Care Home providers always work closely with local parties including the Procurator Fiscal where there is an unexpected or unexplained death.

In the midst of a global pandemic we are eager to continue to give public assurance that the actions of care homes have been entirely in accordance with Guidance issued at the time and that all appropriate clinical intervention has been undertaken.

Such an engagement will help to support staff and providers. We welcome the assurance that will be given to families and residents through an exploration of the circumstances of any particular case, not least in that it will give a clear indication of the degree to which national policy around the use of appropriate PPE, the implementation of testing and other national interventions have impacted on individual deaths.

We are surprised that the same assurances are not being offered for deaths that occur in hospitals, NHS specialist units or community settings .  The Scottish public deserves assurances that regardless of place of support, care and treatment, all appropriate measures have been undertaken.  We call on the Lord Advocate to extend reporting of COVID deaths to the Procurator Fiscal to these areas.

Scottish Care believes that the time is now right to call for a public inquiry into the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in our care sector.  This inquiry will be an opportunity for all stakeholders – Scottish and UK Government, the NHS, local government, social care providers, individuals and families – to explore issues in order to ensure we are collectively better placed for further pandemics.