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Northern Ireland: Sudden Infant Deaths

Volume 670: debated on Thursday 17 March 2005

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asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the State Pathology Department is working to protocols drawn up jointly by the Northern Ireland Department for Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Northern Ireland Office for the investigation of sudden unexpected deaths in children in the region; whether these protocols include the use of double doctoring with paediatric pathologists; and whether they include the concept of a lead pathologist for each case. [HL1585]

The State Pathologist, in collaboration with senior medical officials from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, developed a protocol in March 2004 for the conduct of infant autopsies in coroners' cases. This protocol includes the concept of double doctoring with consultant paediatric pathologists. The NIO is currently working with the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to develop a regional protocol for the investigation of sudden and unexplained deaths in infants.

Under the system of double doctoring there is no formalised arrangement for one pathologist leading over the other since these are "joint" examinations. However, in non-suspicious deaths it is usual for the paediatric pathologist to do most of the prosection and prepare the report which is then "jointly" signed. In suspected criminal cases, the forensic pathologist would do the majority of the examination and be largely responsible for writing the report. Further thought is currently being given to formalising this arrangement.