Inquests into NHS staff who contracted Covid-19 should not examine issue of PPE, Chief Coroner warns

Inquests into the deaths of NHS workers from coronavirus should not examine systemic failures in the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), the Chief Coroner has warned.

In newly published guidance, Mark Lucraft QC, suggested inquests would not be the appropriate place to decide whether government policy on PPE had been lacking.

But he said coroners should consider whether human failure had been a contributing factor in a person contracting the deadly virus.

The vast majority of Britain’s 26,000 Covid-19 deaths will not require an inquest because they are considered under coronial rules to be the result of the “natural progression of a naturally occurring disease”.

But Mr Lucraft said an inquest could be ordered if it was suspected a person’s death had been due to a disease “attributable to their employment”.

Inquests are therefore likely to be held into the deaths of all NHS staff, transport workers, care home employees and other emergency workers who tested positive for coronavirus.

But in the guidance issued to coroners across England and Wales, Mr Lucraft warned that they should avoid making judgments on government policy around the provision of PPE, which has been an extremely controversial topic.

The guidance stated: “An inquest would not be a satisfactory means of deciding whether adequate general policies and arrangements were in place for provision of PPE to healthcare workers”.

Mr Lucrat went on: “Coroners are reminded that an inquest is not the right forum for addressing concerns about high-level government or public policy.”

However he added: “Coroners will need to consider the facts and circumstances of each individual case when making their decisions on how to proceed.”

Rinesh Parmar, the chair of the Doctors Association UK, said the issue of whether a lack of PPE contributed to some of the deaths would be an essential part of the inquest process. 

He said: “The provision of PPE is so vital to the safety of health workers that to suggest coroners do not consider its supply in detail misses a big part of the picture. 

“Only comprehensive inquests into the deaths of every NHS and care worker will give the bereaved the ability to ask questions and have the circumstances of their loved ones’ deaths fully explained.”

The Government has not yet announced whether there will be a full public inquiry into the deaths of NHS and other frontline workers as a result of Covid-19.

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