Death investigations

Change in reporting of care home Covid-19 deaths to the Procurator Fiscal

The Lord Advocate, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer, Police Scotland and National Records Scotland, has today issued updated guidance on the reporting of Covid-19 related deaths.

Having kept matters under regular review, it is no longer necessary to report to the Procurator Fiscal the deaths of all care home residents or workers who may have contracted Covid-19 in the course of their employment or occupation.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service established a specialist unit in May 2020 to receive reports of Covid-19 related deaths and to carry out any investigation which may be required.  Since then, the team have received over 5,500 death reports.

The Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC said: 

“The situation created by this pandemic is unlike any other in our lifetimes and the scale of the Crown’s investigation is unprecedented. It is without doubt the single largest investigation of deaths in Scottish history.

“Thousands of Scottish families lost a loved one and the impact of that is still sorely felt. I understand that an investigation can be difficult for those involved but it is a process which will assist with the eventual understanding of these deaths and may prevent further loss of life in the future.

“The reporting guidance to medical practitioners has been kept under continuous review and, following agreement with the Chief Medical Officer, Police Service of Scotland and National Records Scotland, will now be changed.”

The funding required to carry out this task was recognised in June 2022 when COPFS was successful in its request to Scottish Government for additional in year funding of £2.2m (full year equivalent £4.4m).

This funding, which has continued under the new Scottish budget, will allow COPFS to continue to recruit more staff to carry out the necessary investigations timeously, to support the Scottish and UK COVID 19 public inquiries and to engage with and support bereaved relatives appropriately.

 The Lord Advocate went on:

“The funding from the Scottish Government will ensure that this extensive and detailed work can continue to progress with the ongoing recruitment of additional staff to tackle covid deaths.

“Every single one of these deaths is a tragedy which requires to be fully considered. I am committed to ensuring that the facts and circumstances surrounding these deaths are thoroughly investigated and answers given to bereaved families.”

The Covid Deaths Investigation Team (CDIT) of COPFS continues to work with agencies including the Health and Safety Executive, Local Authorities, the Care Inspectorate, and the police to ensure that all necessary and appropriate enquiries are made in relation to these deaths.

A large amount of information is being collated from care homes, employers, NHS, and the Scottish Government and provided to CDIT for examination. This will include any relevant transfer from a hospital to a care home and whether effective infection prevention and control measures were implemented.

Many of these death investigations will involve the consideration of complex technical and medical issues requiring the instruction of independent experts before we can decide whether any action should be taken and if there is any basis for criminal proceedings or a Fatal Accident Inquiry.

Further information

The Lord Advocate is responsible for the investigation of all sudden, unexpected, and unexplained deaths. It is a function which she exercises independently from any other person, including the Scottish Government.

It is a fundamental aim of the system for the investigation of deaths in Scotland that the Crown should conduct investigations where appropriate, with a view to understanding the circumstances of deaths and helping to prevent future deaths in similar circumstances and COPFS is committed to ensuring that this principle is upheld.

On 21 December 2022, the Lord Advocate directed that Covid-19 related care home and worker deaths no longer required to be reported to the Procurator Fiscal. This reporting arrangement was set out in a joint letter from the Chief Medical Officer, COPFS, Police Scotland and the Registrar General on 21 December 2022.

Updated guidance to medical practitioners for death certification and reporting deaths to the procurator fiscal during the recovery from COVID-19 disease pandemic