‘Sharp increase in deaths’ putting strain on Cambridgeshire’s coroners

Coroner's court

Coroner's court - Credit: Archant

A “sharp increase in deaths” is putting strain on coroners, a Cambridgeshire County Council meeting heard today.

The meeting of the highways and community infrastructure committee at Shire Hall heard the coroner’s budget for the next year is facing a shortfall of nearly half a million pounds – and that the increase in deaths is resulting in some not being investigated for as long as two years.

Cambridgeshire expects a £290,000 overspend on the coroner’s budget in 2018-19 – CCC’s share of an overall shortfall of £446,000, which is split with the Peterborough authority.

County councillor David Jenkins said: “This is a classic demand-led service. I think we need to be upfront and honest about this shortfall. There are some structural issues behind this, and we need to address those.”

The committee heard that the additional budget strain was due to a “sharp increase in deaths” in the county.

As a result, more staff were having to be brought in to cope with the extra demand of investigating the deaths, with other costs like the cost of storing bodies and carrying our post-mortems also adding to the bill.

The committee was also told that Cambridgeshire experienced more than its share of complicated deaths to investigate, given the relatively high number of hospitals and prisons in the county.

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The chief coroner’s guidance requires inquests “to be heard within 12 months and preferably within six months” of the date of referral. Some cases, however, are having to wait more than two years before they can be looked at.

Work is ongoing to tackle the build-up of cases, and councillors praised the efforts to clear the backlog.

Despite the pressures, the committee heard Cambridgeshire’s coroner’s office was performing well when compared with some others in the country.

Councillor Mathew Shuter, chairman of the highways and community infrastructure committee, said the work being done at the coroner’s office should be “commended”, and he welcomed work being done to improve the situation.

Mr Shuter said: “I think this is always a very difficult area. We cannot do anything about this. It is just reflective of what is going on.

“However, what is going on to get rid of the backlog is great, and must be commended. We continue to support the work of the coroner.”

Cllr Simon King agreed, saying it was “good to see that they were getting to the bottom of the backlog”.