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Death Certificates

Volume 515: debated on Tuesday 7 September 2010

16. What recent representations he has received on requirements for doctors to record the primary cause of death on a death certificate. (13162)

I am not aware of any such representations. Doctors are required under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 to complete the medical certificate of cause of death “to the best” of their “knowledge and belief”. They receive information on this as part of their medical training. The Office for National Statistics produces reference material from time to time, including a video and training pack to assist doctors in completing the medical certificate on cause of death.

I thank the Minister for that answer. We have in my constituency of South Northamptonshire the Progressive Supranuclear Palsy Association headquarters. That is a neuro-degenerative disease with some similarities to motor neurone disease, although the big difference is that I doubt that many Members will have heard of it before now. Many people suffer from it, however, yet it is often not recorded on the death certificate. It is always fatal, giving a life expectancy of about two years. Might the Minister be prepared to review the situation and give some consideration to requiring doctors to put the primary cause of death on the death certificate so that we can properly assess the magnitude of this awful degenerative disease?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. As a result of inquiries from the Progressive Supranuclear Palsy Association and others, the ONS is carrying out a special exercise to attempt to identify the true number of deaths involving PSP. However, it is extremely difficult to diagnose. I should just point out that medical examiners, when appointed, will be confirming the cause of death in all cases not investigated by the coroner. I think that that will make a difference to the information recorded on death certificates.