Coronavirus-related deaths of NHS workers and care home residents and staff will now need to be reported to the Crown Office, Scotland’s Lord Advocate has said.
James Wolffe QC told MSPs that fatal accident inquiries (FAIs) will be held into Covid-19 deaths “where the law requires”.
The requirement to report coronavirus deaths to the Crown Office was relaxed earlier in the pandemic in order to reduce the burden on the medical profession.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, Scotland’s most senior law officer said his officials have been reviewing the situation and concluded two categories of deaths should be reported.
These are coronavirus-related deaths where the deceased contracted the disease at work, including NHS, emergency service, transport and care home staff.
Care home residents are the second category, he said.
Mr Wolffe said the deaths would be entered into the Crown Office’s system of death investigation, though the nature of the inquiry will depend on the individual case.
He told MSPs: “In some cases, the investigation required may be quite limited. In other cases, it may be more extensive and that will depend on the particular circumstances.
“In that regard, it would be premature for me to speculate at this stage whether a fatal accident inquiry into any particular death, or categories of deaths, from Covid-19 would or would not be appropriate.”
An FAI is an investigation into the circumstances of a death in Scotland, usually held in public at a sheriff court. Coroners’ inquests are a similar process in England and Wales.
Mr Wolffe continued: “I’m confident that these arrangements will help to make sure that in due course we will as a society better understand the circumstances of these deaths.
“Every one of these deaths is an individual tragedy which calls for, from each one of us, profound sorrow, compassion and respect.”
He said a dedicated unit is being set up in the Crown Office in order to process the reports and in most cases investigations could be concluded “relatively quickly”.
Scottish Labour MSP James Kelly asked whether those who died after contracting the virus in the health and care sectors could be considered for FAIs as a priority.
Mr Wolffe said the system of death investigations in Scotland does not require an FAI in every case and Crown investigations are able to establish the circumstances in most cases.
The Lord Advocate said: “Where the law requires a fatal accident inquiry, one will be held.
“And where the Crown concludes following investigation a fatal accident inquiry should in the public interest be held, then one will be instructed.”
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