Funding for improved Coronial Post-mortem Services

The Ministry of Justice has agreed new contracts for post-mortem services across New Zealand.

An additional $7m per annum was secured through Budget 2018/19, which includes funding for additional forensic pathologists.

From 1 September, four service providers will provide 150 forensic and 3000 coronial post-mortem services for deaths that occur each year and that are investigated by Coroners, including suspicious and unexplained deaths.

The Ministry, with support from NZ Police and the Ministry of Health, has sought to provide better, more consistent coronial support services to the Coroners and to the people of New Zealand, and to address challenges that have been facing the services for some years.

Ministry of Justice Chief Operating Officer Carl Crafar said: “These new arrangements will strengthen the support provided to Coroners in the early stages of progressing cases, and result in more responsive and culturally aware services to families and whānau of the deceased. We needed to develop a more sustainable coronial service that where possible was delivered locally so that families and whanau could be closest to the bodies of their loved ones.”

The outcomes from the procurement recognise the specialist nature of this work and provide increased funding for additional forensic pathologists, forensic trainees and provide for an increase in remuneration in line with international market rates to attract and retain these skilled professionals.

The Government has also revoked regulations that had constrained fee levels for over a decade, and increased funding across the service providers, which will enable fair and reasonable remuneration to the people providing the services.

Services will be more consistent and reliable for coroners, who will be able to direct post-mortems to be carried out seven days a week. Families should see improved hours of access to their deceased locally as services are made available to assist them to view and stay close by prior to their post-mortem. This is possible because the new arrangements will see:

  • an increase in forensic pathologists going up from 8.5 FTE to 10 FTE
  • Funded forensic pathologists trainee positions going up from 1 FTE to 3 FTE
  • Coronial and forensic pathologists, mortuary staff and facilities working in local teams that enable a more consistent, better joined-up service

Forensics post mortems will continue to be conducted by forensic pathologists.

The providers and their services:

  • Auckland DHB and its partner Medlab Central - forensic and coronial post-mortem services from Auckland City Hospital and Palmerston North Hospital
  • Canterbury DHB - forensic and coronial post-mortem services from Christchurch Hospital
  • Communio and its consortium partners Waikato DHB, Pathology Associates and Southern Community Laboratories - coronial post-mortem services from Waikato, Rotorua, Nelson, Dunedin, and Southland Hospitals, and forensic and coronial post-mortems from Wellington Hospital.
  • Northland DHB - coronial post-mortem services from Whangarei Hospital.

Long term contracts start from 1 September 2018, initially for 7 years but are extendable out to 13 years, providing certainty to providers and to enable them to recruit and retain staff. As a result, one of the providers has been able to attract a pathologist back to New Zealand who currently provides their services overseas.

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