Doctors have a legal obligation not to issue a death certificate in the case of a reportable death, according to medico-legal expert Scott Chapman of HWL Ebsworth lawyers.
There may be minor differences from state to state, but in NSW, for example, all deaths are reportable if the patient had not been attended to by a doctor during the previous six months, he writes.
Other common attributes of a reportable death are:
- A violent or unnatural death.
- A sudden death the cause of which is unknown.
- A death with suspicious or unusual circumstances.
- The person died in circumstances where the death was not the reasonably expected outcome of a health-related procedure.
- The person died while in or temporarily absent from a mental health facility.
In the following three circumstances a death certificate must not be issued as a Coronial Inquest must be held:
- The person died while in custody or attempting to escape from the custody of a police officer, or during the course of police operations.
- The person was a child in care, a child whose death may have been caused by abuse or neglect, or a child/sibling of a child in respect of whom a report was made to the appropriate authority.
- The person was, at the time of death, living in residential care or received assistance under the Disability Services Act 1993.
If a doctor establishes that the person’s death falls within one of the above categories, the death must be reported to the police as soon as practical. The police will notify the Coroner and investigate the circumstances of the death. Usually, the police will request a statement from the patient’s treating doctors.
It is strongly recommended that all doctors seek assistance from their medical indemnity insurer before providing any statement to the police, writes Mr Chapman.
“Ultimately, it will be a matter for the Coroner to decide whether or not to hold an Inquest.”
Tego has a 24-hour medical indemnity insurance hotline to assist clients who have questions about their rights and obligations regarding death certificates and requests for statements from the police or the Coroner.
Hotline number: 1300 938 991
See the links below for specific information related to the Coroners Court in each state and territory:
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