SCOTLAND’S Lord Advocate has agreed to meet with bereaved families after a 40 per cent surge in deaths being reported has led to delays in loved ones finding out causes of death.
Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain confirmed that 12-week turnaroun target for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to tell the next of kin the causes of death in 80% of cases has not been met in 2019-20 and 2020-21.
Speaking in Holyrood in response to a question from Labour MSP Monica Lennon, the Lord Advocate stressed that post-mortem reports are “issued by pathologists to the Crown Office and Procurator Fisal Service”, adding that pathologists do not have a target to meet.
But she added: “The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service aims to conduct its investigation and advise the next of kin of the outcome within 12 weeks of the initial report of the death in at least 80% of these cases.
“In 2019-20, 70% of cases were closed within the 12-week period and in 2020-2021, it was 59%.
“Previously delays with toxicology analysis have played a significant part in that 12-week target not being met – but there are also other legitimate reasons why it is not possible to conclude an investigation within 12 weeks, such as the need for further investigations with the view to determine whether a fatal accident enquiry should be held.
“Significant work has been done by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, toxicologists and pathologists to address this issue.”
But Ms Bain stressed that “since the beginning of 2021, there has been no backlog of toxicology reports”.
She added: “All reports have been submitted to pathologists within agreed timescales and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has established a dedicated team to manage the final post-mortem reports which have now been received and required to be considered.”
Ms Lennon insisted that “this has been a deeply upsetting period for many families”.
She added: “Before the pandemic, bereaved families were experiencing long and agonising waits for final post-mortem reports.
“Instead of being told it could take around 12 weeks, many were told it could take 12 months and some were told it could take two years. I’m pleased there are improvements.
“Will the Lord Advocate meet with me and affected families to make sure that we never get this wrong again?”
The Lord Advocate said she would be happy to meet with bereaved families to discuss the issues, which she said were partly down to an “increase of 40% in the number of deaths being reported to the Crown Office from the previous year”.
National Records of Scotland statistics show the country recorded the highest number of peacetime excess deaths in 129 years in 2020 as the pandemic led to 6,324 more deaths than the average previous five years.
Ms Bain added: “I understand the impact that the history of this issue has had on bereaved families.
“I would be more than happy to meet and discuss this issue at significant length with Ms Lennon and those who have bene profoundly affected, as she rightly has described.”