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1 Subject: Coroners Hosted Service Status: For Publication Report to: Overview and Scrutiny Committee Date: 31st July 2014 Cabinet Member: Cecile Biant Report of: Chris Sheader Author: Mark Dalzell Author Tel: Tel: Comments from Statutory Officers: Key Decision: No Section 151 Officer Monitoring Officer 1 Purpose of Report 1.1 The purpose of this report is to inform Members of the issues facing the Coroners hosted service and to outline the interventions and improvements made within the last 12 months. Additionally the report will highlight some of the challenges and issues facing the service in the immediate future. 2 Recommendations 2.1 Members note the importance of the Coroners Service hosted by Rochdale and the importance to the Borough. 2.2 Members note the improvement work undertaken by Customers and Corporate Services. 2.3 Members note the future challenges facing the service. Reason for recommendation 2.4 Members can understand the significance of the hosted service and make informed decisions in the future. 3 Background 3.1 The Coroner is an independent judicial officer presiding over a Court of Record within the English Judicial system. The Coroner discharges his or her duties under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and makes inquiries into violent or unnatural deaths, sudden deaths of unknown cause, and deaths in custody,

2 which may include holding an inquest in open court. This is an important public service to bereaved families. The service helps to provide closure by establishing who has died, how, when, where and in what circumstances. The Coroner can also make reports where he or she believes that action should be taken to prevent future deaths. 3.2 There are four coronial districts in Greater, 3 of which are hosted by Rochdale, Bolton and Stockport councils. Rochdale hosts on behalf of Oldham and Bury, whilst Bolton hosts for Wigan and Salford, and Stockport hosts for Tameside and Trafford. operates its own service. Costs are shared between Rochdale, Oldham and Bury relative to the population sizes. 3.3 Comparative statistics (2012/13) Coronial District No. of deaths reported No. of Post Mortems No. of Inquests held (North) Rochdale (South) Stockport (West) Bolton 2,634 2,821 4,039 3, ,543 1,696 1, (City) Central 3.4 Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide accommodation for the Coroner and must secure whatever officers and other staff are needed to carry out their functions. 3.5 Within the last twelve months there have been a number of changes both in legislation, case law and complexity around death investigation, which has presented considerable strain on the service. The changes also included the appointment by government of a Chief Coroner who is responsible for the Coroners performance. 3.6 The additional requirements on the service include: o The introduction of the new Coroners and Justice Act 2009 in July 2013, which transformed the approach to Coronial investigations to put the family at the centre of the process, widening the family consultation and distribution of information. o Challenging performance targets set by the Chief Coroner to conclude all inquests within 6 months. o An extension to the scope of inquests by the European Court of Human Rights. o An increased reluctance of clinicians to complete death certificates partly due to the fall out from the Shipman inquiry. o Increases in public expectations. Families are now more challenging on whether public services have failed in preventing deaths from occurring.

3 3.7 Improvement work undertaken by Customers and Corporate services In April 2013 responsibility for the Coroner s Service was moved to the Acting Chief Executive and fundamental review was undertaken The Coroner was immediately offered increased resources for support staff and the appointment of a temporary full time Assistant Coroner to maintain business as usual whilst allowing the Coroner more time to focus on important cases. These are interim arrangements A senior manager was seconded full time to oversee the service and a transformation team assembled from within the ICT service to undertake an in depth business analysis and workflow mapping as part of a transformation programme to provide the Coroner with modern efficient back office support service New accommodation was provided at the Phoenix Centre in Heywood to provide improved access facilities for bereaved families and the ability to run simultaneous inquest courts to maximise the efficiency of the Coroner and full time Assistant Coroner An improvement plan was developed to identify improvements required, agreements required to host the service, a more detailed assessment of financial commitments and more structured meetings introduced with the Finance Directors of Bury and Oldham. 3.8 Progress to date A succession of budget meetings has been held with Oldham and Bury councils both face to face and via conference call facilities. Issues explored included legal status and benchmarking data with other coronial districts. Some areas of expenditure are lower than other comparative coronial districts, specifically post mortem costs and mortuary fees. However, overall costs have risen in line with Coroner s services nationally mainly due to increased staffing and medical fees as a consequence of the changes imposed by the new Coroner s Act, more thorough investigations and requirements imposed by the Chief Coroner (see 4.1). Further meetings are planned to ensure that all areas of expenditure are thoroughly scrutinised Updated hosting agreement the service have been drafted to recognise the hosting responsibilities and cost sharing agreements A resource analysis has been undertaken and temporary additional back office staff provided to maintain adequate staffing to manage the increased workload A number of face to face meetings have been arranged between the Senior Coroner and the Acting Chief Executive to explore the local authority relationship with the Coroner and to deal with urgent matters.

4 3.8.5 Weekly focus group meetings have been held with the Coroner s staff and the full time Assistant Coroner to inform the overall improvement plan and efficiency work streams Investment in new equipment for the Coroner has included new digital recording equipment for the inquest courts (including mobile digital recording facilities), new laptops and mobile working facilities for the Coroners and the back office staff and new digital dictation equipment and speech recognition software for letter production A new Court Usher resource has been provided with the provision of a bank of casual Usher employees to support the inquest courts process and to support bereaved families A performance framework has been developed through the business analysis work to map the coronial process from start to finish. This will permit future adjustments to the service workflow to be managed more systematically should further changes be required by legislation or the Chief Coroner The Workflow analysis carried out with the service revealed a complex back office process and this work has attracted significant interest form other coronial districts. It is understood that this is the first time this type of complex analysis has been undertaken The process mapping allowed the transformation team to identify hotspots and blockages and there are now 13 work streams being developed to transform the support service to the Coroner An interim restructure is proposed and a full time Area Coroner (Deputy to the Coroner) is to be recruited to meet the increased demands on the service and to fulfil the authorities statutory duty to provide adequate resources for the Senior Coroner. 3.9 Future challenges meeting the service Workload Prior to the intervention of the Acting Chief Executive the Coroner s service had accumulated a backlog of over 300 inquest cases. The intervention work to date has significantly reduced this backlog, which is likely to be completed by October However, continual changes affecting the Coroner s workload and increasing demands on the back office staff requires continual reassessment of the resources and technical support needed. For example, a recent High Court ruling has led to increased disclosure of documents to interested parties prior to inquests. These documents have to be manually redacted to remove personal data, which further increases the resource demands on the service Accommodation With no provision for the Coroner s service at One Riverside, the service is currently based at the Phoenix Centre in

5 Heywood. However, this accommodation is now too small to accommodate the back office functions. The court facilities are not ideal and the combination of bereaved families and NHS patients mixing in waiting areas has led to some complaints Ideally the service should be delivered from an independent building commensurate with the sensitive nature of the service delivered by the Coroner. The other three coronial districts in Greater have recently invested in new accommodation for the Coroners services Options for alternative accommodation are currently being explored and will be subject to a separate report Medical Examiners Following the Harold Shipman Inquiry, the Government has been piloting a new service whereby all deaths will be independently reviewed by a Medical Examiner separately to the Coroner Consultation is imminent. However, the pilot studies reported a likely 25% increase in cases reported to the Coroner Local Authorities will be expected to run the Medical Examiners Service due to the close links to the Coroners and Registrars services. This matter will be the subject of a separate report in the future The Hosted Service The hosting arrangement for the Coroner s service is an effective model used nationally to achieve economies of scale. However, the hosting authority must manage this responsibility effectively and be accountable for the service delivery. The Coroner s service is critical to bereaved families and is subject to continual change from external drivers some of which were described in 3.6. Future changes are likely, particularly in relation to Medical Examiners that are likely to increase workload further and therefore this service will require careful continual management to ensure that the resources are adequate for effective service delivery. 4 Financial Implications 4.1 There is currently a budget pressure of 100K anticipated within the Coroners service for Rochdale s share of the current costs. The financial position in respect of the Coroners Service for 2013/14 was an overspend against budget of 91k, as follows:

6 5 Legal Implications Coroner's Hosted Service - Outturn 2013/14 Expenditure/Income Budget Actual Variance Description 000s 000s 000s EMPLOYEES PREMISES TRANSPORT SUPPLIES & SERVICES SUPPORT SERVICES INCOME Total Agreements have been concluded with Oldham Council/Bury Council in respect of resource requirements for 2014/15 and projections for 15/16 and 16/ The Council has a statutory duty to provide staff and accommodation for the Coroner under Section 24 of The Coroners and Justice Act Personnel Implications 6.1 Interim support Officer posts are either temporary or agency until the transformation work is completed. Any change to the support provided will be subject to a separate future report and appropriate consultation with staff and trade unions. 6.2 Recruitment of an Area Coroner (deputy to the Coroner) in line with the other Greater coronial districts will be subject to the Council s fair recruitment and selection procedure. 7 Corporate Priorities 7.1 The Coroner s service provides essential investigation and closure for bereaved families and can report on actions to prevent future deaths and therefore links to the Councils priority for an increased healthy life and wellbeing for citizens. 8. Risk Assessment Implications 8.1 Failure to provide the Coroner the adequate resources would be a failure to comply with statutory duties under the Coroners and Justice Act Failure to provide effective support to the Coroner would have a significant impact on the wellbeing of bereaved families and could lead to demands being made on other public services.

7 9. Equalities Impacts 9.1 Workforce Equality Impacts Assessment There are no (significant) workforce equality issues arising from this report. 9.2 Equality/Community Impact Assessments There are no (significant) equality/community issues arising from this report. Document None Background Papers Place of Inspection

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