County coroner under ‘increasing pressure’ from workload

Lawrence Court, in Huntingdon, where inquests take place.

Lawrence Court, in Huntingdon, where inquests take place. - Credit: Archant

Cambridgeshire’s coroners are coming under increasing pressure as they struggle with a backlog of historical cases.

A report published on July 3 said the coroner’s budget for the next year was facing budget pressures of nearly half-a-million pounds. The report says that, in addition to rising workloads, the service also has a backlog of historical inquests to deal with.

Coroners investigate deaths that are referred to them. Once the initial work has been completed, including post mortems if required, the body of the deceased can be returned to the family funeral director.

If the death is considered unnatural an inquest is carried out and additional investigations are required.

The report said there have been some “notable successes” over the past year, but says there are still “significant pressures” on the service.

According to the report, which went before Cambridgeshire County Council’s highways and community infrastructure committee on Tuesday, the county council expects a £290,000 overspend on the coroner’s budget in 2018 -19.

The report says this is the county council’s share of an overall pressure of £446,000, which is split with Peterborough City Council.

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The chief coroner’s guidance requires inquests to be heard within 12 months and preferably within six months of the date of referral. Some cases, however, are having to wait more than two years before they can be looked at.

Work is ongoing to tackle the backlog of cases.

The report reads: “The service made significant progress to reduce the backlog during 2017, closing 127 more cases that we opened.

“This was a significant achievement in difficult circumstances. We currently have 20 inquest cases that are over two years old; 43 cases between 12 and 24 months; 59 cases between six and 12 months; and 124 cases under six months.”

During 2018, the service will be launching the roll out of a “partner portal” as part of the case management system. This means hospital doctors and GPs will be able to refer cases to the coroner electronically. The report says Cambridgeshire is the first place in the country to introduce this solution.

The report adds: “It will remove the need for our staff to double key information as well as simplifying the referral process for our partners. Once established we will look to expand the use of the portal to police, pathologists, registrars and other partner services.”