Medical Examiners Committee

The Medical Examiners Committee, chaired first by Professor Peter Furness and now by Dr Alan Fletcher, was set up as a result of the College being recognised as lead royal medical college for medical examiners. The medical examiner posts will be created as a result of implementation of the reform of death certification included in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. Implementation has had several delays imposed and no firm decision has been taken by the Department of Health, but we hope it will move forward in the coming year.

Chair: Dr Alan Fletcher

Committee Members


Medical Examiners (of the cause of death) were established by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, to provide better scrutiny of death certification, more accurate data on causes of death, advice to Coroners, and to facilitate input of relevant information to the Clinical Governance systems of the Health Service.

The Department of Health has run several pilot programmes to establish how best to implement these reforms. Professor Peter Furness has been appointed as the first National Medical Examiner.

Following several delays to implementation, in January 2015 – 15 years after the sentencing of GP Harold Shipman – the College called on the Government to implement the reform without further delay. College President, Dr Suzy Lishman, said: ‘The reform of death certification is long overdue. Fifteen years after Shipman’s conviction, it is incomprehensible that the recommended changes have not been implemented.’

The Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry (Francis Report, February 2013) also included specific recommendations regarding the introduction of medical examiners. The report recognised the need for improvements in in the accuracy of the certified cause of death and the identification of cases to be referred to the coroner. It also noted that consistent practice is required for approaching families and responsible doctors after a hospital death and establishing if they have concerns relevant to the cause of death, including the quality of care received by the deceased.

The Department of Health has advised that progress will not be made until after the General Election 2015.

The RCPath has been identified as Lead Medical Royal College for Medical Examiners. The Terms of Reference of its new Medical Examiners Committee have been agreed by College Council and are available, with Minutes after approval.

A multidisciplinary committee established by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has produced a curriculum for training Medical Examiners, available below.

An online training package is nearing completion and is available, to authorised users (such as doctors considering applying to be a Medical Examiner), through the e-Learning for health website. Instructions on how to gain access to the e-learning are available on that site.

It is anticipated that this section of the RCPath website will be updated as the project progresses.