NHS National Medical Examiner announced to support bereaved families and improve patient safety

Dr Alan Fletcher, a consultant in Emergency Medicine has been appointed as the National Medical Examiner for the NHS.

In his new role, Dr Fletcher will oversee the introduction of the medical examiner system in England and Wales. The new system will ensure that every death in an acute hospital is scrutinised by either a medical examiner or a coroner so that issues with a patient’s care can be identified quickly to improve services for others.

Medical examiners will also contact families shortly after they have been bereaved to ensure that any concerns they have about their loved one’s care are listened to and considered at the earliest opportunity.  

Minister of State for Care Caroline Dinenage, said: “This is another important step on the road to making the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world, delivering on commitments in the NHS Long Term Plan to improve patient safety and reduce harm.”

“Independent medical examiners will improve the way NHS investigations are carried out to provide bereaved families with the full and honest answers they deserve and enabling the NHS to continually improve.”

“I very much welcome Dr Fletcher’s appointment and I look forward to working closely with him in the future.”

This follows the Gosport inquiry last year, which found that improvements could be made to the way the NHS scrutinises deaths so that lessons can be learnt sooner. Both the Gosport Inquiry and Shipman Inquiry recommended that all certificates for cause of death should be scrutinised by an independent doctor, known as a medical examiner.

From April, hospitals in England and Wales will be asked to set up a medical examiner office to provide independent scrutiny for the deaths of their patients. The service will later be rolled out to cover all deaths, including those in the community. 

Dr Alan Fletcher, the newly appointed national medical examiner, said: “I am delighted to be given the opportunity to lead the medical examiner system in England and Wales.”

“Having worked on the system’s first pilot for the last decade, I have seen first-hand the crucial role that independent medical examiners can play in giving those bereaved a voice, while ensuring that the necessary steps after their loss are as problem free as possible.”

“I look forward to working with stakeholders, current and future medical examiners to ensure that the service is able to deliver for patients and families.”

Dr Fletcher will report directly to the NHS Director of Patient Safety, Dr Aidan Fowler. He will serve in this role on a part time basis alongside his roles as Medical Examiner for Sheffield and Consultant Emergency Physician at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr Aidan Fowler, the NHS Director of Patient Safety said: “I am delighted that Dr Fletcher has been appointed as the National Medical Examiner for the NHS. Dr Fletcher brings with him a wealth of experience from his work as Chair of the Royal College of Pathologists’ Medical Examiners Committee.”

“I look forward to working with him on the NHS medical examiner system which will scrutinise patient deaths and give bereaved families the support and accountability they deserve.”