Key Findings of the Coroners Report for 2015
236,406 deaths were reported to coroners in 2015, an increase of 12,565 (6%) from 2014, reflecting the rise in the number of registered deaths from 2014 to 2015 (up 6%) and the increase in the number of deaths under Deprivation of Liberty Safeguard (DoLS) authorisations reported to coroners. (ED: these are deaths of people who might be considered vulnerable and might be subject to some restrictions for their own protection.)
Just under half (45%) of all registered deaths were reported to coroners in 2015, the same level seen in 2014 and 2013. Over the last ten years, this proportion has been generally consistent, within the range of 45% to 47%.
The Coroners Report continues that in 2015, newly collected figures on deaths of individuals subject to DoLS authorisations show that there were 7,183 such deaths.
The number of inquests opened in 2015 increased by 6,968 (up 27%) to 32,857, driven by the increase in DoLS authorisations and the corollary increase in deaths while subject to DoLS. All such cases require an inquest.
There were 89,206 post-mortem examinations ordered by coroners in 2015, 38% of all cases reported to them. This is down two percentage points since 2014, consistent with the long-term downward trend. For those inquests concluded in 2015, there were 35,473 total inquest conclusions recorded, up 22% on 2014, reflecting in part the rise in the number of inquests opened. Inquest conclusions of natural causes were up 127% on 2014 to 11,043, driven by the majority (94%) of DoLS cases having an inquest conclusion of natural causes. The number of inquests resulting in a conclusion of natural causes, excluding those for 6,760 deaths of individuals subject to DoLS authorisations, was stable with the previous year.
In 2015, post-mortem examinations were conducted in 56% of inquest cases, down 20 percentage points on 2014, driven by the increase in deaths of individuals subject to DoLS authorisation – all such cases require an inquest, with the majority recording an inquest conclusion of natural causes; a post-mortem examination is therefore unlikely to be required to determine the cause of death and the inquest may well be a ‘paper’ inquest. Just three of the ten possible inquest short form conclusions account for almost 67% of all conclusions recorded. These are natural causes (31%) accident and misadventure (22%) and unclassified inquest conclusions (14%). The estimated average time taken to process an inquest in 2015 was 20 weeks, with a minimum of 5 weeks and a maximum of 61 weeks across coroner areas. This is an improvement of 8 weeks, when compared to 2014. This can largely be attributed to DoLS where, in accordance with the Chief Coroner’s guidance, in uncontroversial cases the inquest can be a ‘paper inquest’ i.e. decided in open court but on papers without the need for witnesses or a post mortem.