Establishing precisely how many people die in the State annually not possible
Proposals aimed at revising the death registration process will introduce new statutory duties on medical practitioners and hospital administrators to notify and certify deaths within shortened timeframes, outlines a consultation document issued from the General Register Office (GRO).
The issue of earlier notification of deaths to support public health monitoring and enhanced public service delivery is the premise for the proposals. “It is not possible to establish the precise number of persons who die in the State annually,” underlined the GRO, and public consultation on proposals to revise the current process for notifying and registering deaths has just opened for submissions until April 12 2021.
A Working Group consisting of representatives of a number of agencies has opened consultation before final proposals are made to, and considered by, the Government.
Each year some 32,000 people died in Ireland, stated the consultation document.
Around 40 per cent of deaths were registered within one month of the date of death with approximately half of the remaining that did not involve referral to a Coroner being registered in the following two months.
The result was that a sizeable number of deaths went unregistered for a period well past the three-month legal timeframe. However, added the document, the manner in which deaths were registered had been highlighted in recent months, particularly with respect to the need for timely death data in supporting public health measures during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was proposed to provide for a three-stage death registration process, largely based on electronic exchange of data between the parties. These elements combined would replace the existing registration process.
Under the revision to the existing process, a new notification stage has been proposed where the registered medical practitioner. or other medical professional permitted to pronounce death, notifies the Health Service Executive (HSE) via electronic means that a person has died within 24 hours of the date of death.
Work is in progress on putting in place an online system to allow for the medical practitioner pronouncing death to provide basic identifying information to the HSE.
The information to be provided at this notification stage is to consist of a basic data set identifying the medical practitioner pronouncing death and the identity of the deceased.
Two key changes are proposed for the medical certification of cause of death stage; one is to provide for electronic means by which the medical certificate cause of death (MCCD) can be completed.
The other is to require that the MCCD should be completed and submitted within five calendar days after the date of death.
No other changes are proposed for MCCD and current guidance available to medical practitioners in completing this component of the death registration process are to remain unchanged.
At the third stage – the registration stage – other than changes to the layout and presentation of the Death Notification Form, the key change being proposed is that the legal requirement to register a death within three months, is to be reduced to five working days from receipt of the MCCD from the medical practitioner certifying the death.
Together, the timeframe for registration of a death is to be reduced from three months currently to around two weeks from date of death. It is proposed that registration should be done within five working days of receipt by a relative of the MCCD from a medical practitioner.
In outlining the background to the proposed revision of existing arrangements, the document stated that the law provided that a death should be registered within three months of the date of death.
“This legal requirement is met in as little as four out of five deaths. Without legal consequence, deaths can be registered at any time following death. Such time lags have implications for the compilation of population statistics and data to support public health actions and public health and medical research.
“The State’s sole reliance on the process of death registration to provide information on death and its causes is inconsistent with the approach applied internationally,” added the consultation document.
The full document is available on www.gov.ie/consultations.