Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke has announced planned changes to the Coroners Act 2009 which will enable families who lose loved ones in unexpected or unexplained circumstances to get the answers they need more quickly.
Attorney General Mark Speakman supported by Health Minister Brad Hazzard have introduced the proposals in NSW Parliament today which aim to avoid unnecessary post mortem examinations.
Ms Cooke said the changes would greatly benefit families in the Cootamundra electorate
“Many families have endured delays during the most difficult times of their lives and I have been fighting as hard as I can to address this situation,” Ms Cooke said.
“Losing a loved one is a tremendously difficult time and this has been made worse by delays caused by the post-mortem examination process.
“The proposed amendments are intended to reduce the number of unnecessary referrals to the Coroner and improve timeframes of other coronial investigations.”
The first amendment will remove the requirement to report a death to the Coroner where the deceased had not seen a doctor in the six months prior to death.
“Around 60 per cent of all cases reported to the NSW Coroner each year are the result of a natural death,” Ms Cooke said.
The second amendment will allow a forensic pathologist to undertake preliminary examinations of deceased people without the need for a direction from the Coroner.
This will allow non-invasive procedures such as blood tests, X-rays and MRI scans to be performed without sending the body away, and may provide medical information which would eliminate the need for a full post-mortem examination.
“These changes to the legislative requirements surrounding a death are aimed at putting the needs of grieving families first,” Ms Cooke said.
Although the changes will have a positive impact on wait times, Ms Cooke said that they are not a comprehensive answer to the issue of delays.
“While these changes are intended to reduce the number of referrals to the Coroner, they alone are not a full solution to the problem of delays. We still have a skills shortage and we will continue to recruit pathology staff.
“NSW Health Pathology is actively recruiting overseas and is also training its largest ever group of forensic pathologist registrar trainees.
“I have strongly advocated for improvements to current coronial processes and I’m really pleased to see that the Attorney General and Health Minister have listened to the people of the Cootamundra electorate.
Ms Cooke said that members of the community have raised legitimate, sincere concerns about the current arrangements.
“The last thing grieving families want is a drawn-out coronial process. I have fought hard to have this process expedited so that families and friends can have the closure they need and can lay their loved ones to rest.”
Patricia Butler, of Maurice R Moroney & Co funeral directors, is pleased by the proposed changes.
“I welcome anything other than what is in place today. I understand that there’s a need to have checks and balances in place, but it gets to a point where families are left waiting for long periods of time,” Ms Butler said.
“I understand why that is, the lack of forensic pathologists, but I think there’s some middle ground and what they’re proposing is a good way forward to do this.
“We need to abide by the law and have those checks and balances to make sure nothing unforeseen has happened, but by the same token, families are being made to wait an extremely long time and that only adds to their stress.”
The obligation under the Coroners Act 2009 to report unnatural, violent or suspicious deaths and sudden deaths from unknown causes will remain untouched.
Further opportunities for appropriate ways to improve the coronial process are currently being explored by a special Government taskforce.