Decision Maker: Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services
Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Is Key decision?: Yes
Is subject to call in?: Yes
To award 6-month extensions to contracts for the provision of Post-Mortem (PM) facilities to Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, East Kent Hospitals Trust and Medway NHS Trust and confirm current arrangements.
Background and reason for the decision:
The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 places a duty on Coroners to investigate deaths that are referred to them if they have reason to think that:
§ The death was violent or unnatural;
§ The cause of death is unknown; or
§ The deceased died while in prison, police custody or another form of state detention
In some cases, the Coroner will order a post mortem (PM) to establish the cause of death, and in such cases, the deceased is taken to one of five NHS mortuaries across Kent and Medway located at Margate, Ashford, Tunbridge Wells, Dartford, and Gillingham.
On behalf of the Kent and Medway Senior Coroners, KCC ensures access to body storage and PM facilities across the four Kent coroner areas. KCC does not have its own public mortuary facility and so like many other coroner areas across England and Wales it relies on local NHS hospitals which have the necessary facilities for this purpose; there are no private sector providers of PM facilities anywhere in England and Wales.
The contract extensions were initially entered into in 2021, with the details and intentions set out in planned decisions 21/00079 and 21/00096 (covering Mid Kent & Medway, North East Kent and Central & South East Kent coroner areas). It is now necessary to review, collate and update the relevant contracting and governance associated with these arrangements and to seek to extend the contracts by a further 6 months until the end of March 2023 via a single co-ordinated decision. The planned approach will address the outstanding governance and time gap involved with the prior decisions while also supporting ongoing provision – therefore this decision confirms the required arrangements undertaken for the previous year and allows for appropriate service continuation prior to new contracts being put in place (via separate relevant decision-making) for April 2023 onwards.
This six-month period will be used by the Coroner Service to better understand the service and associated costs of running the contract for the Trusts. Contract terms will be updated and developed using these findings and in line with KCC’s future needs, including the implementation of the Digital Autopsy (DA) service. Currently it is unclear how the DA project will be progressing; therefore a 6-month contract extension will allow more time for KCC to determine DA’s direction of travel and develop a contractual arrangement that complements the DA service once it goes live.
Options considered and discarded:
Option 1: Do nothing
This is the current situation as the service is operating outside of a contract. Unless a contract is put in place, the Council is at risk of receiving an inconsistent provision and quality of service, a lack of control over costs, and subsequent reputational ramifications.
Option 2: Go out to tender
Kent NHS Trusts do not have capacity to take on any extra work without significant capital investment, and past use of mortuaries outside Kent have not delivered a suitable service.
Option 3: Use a framework or other viable contract mechanism
There are no known frameworks or other viable mechanisms for the provision of mortuary facilities in England and Wales.
Option 4: Extend the contracts for a longer period until the DA facility opens
Extending the contracts for 12-18 months will not provide KCC with the flexibility to negotiate new contracts for mortuary services that support the DA facility.
How the proposed decision supports Framing Kent’s Future 2022-2026:
The proposed Digital Autopsy facility, to which these contracts are directly linked, supports Priority 2: Infrastructure for Communities via a further digitalisation of KCC’s service offer, and finding better ways to deliver services for Kent.
Data Protection implications:
A Data Protection Impact Assessment screening form has been completed, which concludes that a DPIA is not required.
As Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services, I agree the six-month extension for the provision of mortuary and Post-Mortem (PM) services in the Mid Kent & Medway, North West Kent, and East Kent coroner areas and confirm current arrangements from earlier decisions 21/00079 and 21/00096.
Publication date: 14/12/2022
Date of decision: 14/12/2022
Effective from: 22/12/2022