Forensic pathology services

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.324.7351.1408 (Published 15 June 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:1408
  1. Derrick Pounder, professor of forensic medicine
  1. Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Dundee, Dundee DD1 4HN

    Quality must be guaranteed

    Forensic pathology services are an essential part of systems of investigating deaths worldwide. In England and Wales these forensic services, the entire death investigation system, and the coroner service are currently under review. Forensic pathology in Britain has had chronic problems as an orphan specialty excluded from the NHS at its inception and now largely ejected from the universities. Today the 35 or so pathologists accredited by the Home Office are contracted to police forces to support the investigation of suspicious deaths and homicides. About half are in full time private practice. They also provide autopsy services to local coroners, but most of the 120 000 coroner's autopsies performed annually are carried out by NHS pathologists as an approved form of private practice.1

    The chronic problems of the forensic pathology service have now precipitated a review by the home office. There has also been a recent flurry of scandals. The conviction of the serial killer Dr Harold Shipman, the furore over the retention of organs at autopsy, and the inquiry into the cutting off of the hands of victims in the Marchioness disaster2 all exposed failings in the death …

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