Coroner service could be merged

Coroner Malcolm Donnelly. (IRN
Coroner Malcolm Donnelly. (IRN

TEESSIDE and Hartlepool coroner services could merge under new plans being considered.

Hartlepool’s Coroner Service is currently separate but under the proposals would merge with Teesside which already covers Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton.

Malcolm Donnelly, Hartlepool coroner, is supportive of the plans, and told the Mail it is inevitable given the number of reported deaths in town has halved since the closure of the A&E department at the University Hospital of Hartlepool in August 2011.

The merger plans have come about following Teesside coroner Michael Sheffield’s retirement in April this year, after more than 40 years service.

Mr Sheffield, who was in his 80s, had come under heavy fire because of long delays in the time it was taking to complete inquests, including those families from Hartlepool who had relatives die in unusual circumstances at the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton.

Mr Donnelly, who is also helping to clear the backlog on Teesside, said: “I did express some years ago that the closure of the A&E would have an impact on the coroner service in town.

“A merger has become inevitable because the number of reported deaths is not sufficient for a separate coroner service.”

In 2013, the number of reported deaths in Hartlepool was around 350 – roughly half of the number prior to the A&E closure. In comparison, Teesside has around 2,900 reported deaths a year.

If the changes do go ahead they are not expected to adversely affect town residents, with inquests into deaths happening in Hartlepool continuing to be heard in the town.

Councillors sitting on Hartlepool Borough Council’s finance and policy committee will meet on Monday to discuss the plans, and they are asked to approve ‘in principle’ the merger of Hartlepool and Teesside.

A report by Dave Stubbs, the council’s chief executive, said: “Following approval of a business case through the four local authorities a submission will then be made to the Ministry of Justice.

“The responsibility for formal consultation on a potential merger of the Teesside and Hartlepool coroner areas rests solely with the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor will also consult on a business case with whoever he thinks appropriate.”

The full cost of the Hartlepool coroner services for 2013-14 was £182,000, while the cost of the Teesside Coroner service was £962,488.

If the merger went ahead, it would save Hartlepool council around £30,000. The committee meets Monday, July 21 at 9.30am at the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road.