Preventable deaths from SARS-CoV-2 in England and Wales: a systematic case series of coroners’ reports during the COVID-19 pandemic
Swift B., Heneghan C., Aronson JK., Howard DJ., Richards GC.
AbstractObjectivesTo examine coroners’ Prevention of Future Deaths reports (PFDs) to identify deaths involving SARS-CoV-2 that coroners deemed preventable.DesignConsecutive case series.SettingEngland and Wales.ParticipantsPatients reported in 510 PFDs dated between 01 January 2020 and 28 June 2021, collected from the UK’s Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website using web scraping to create an openly available database, https://preventabledeathstracker.net/.Main outcome measuresConcerns reported by coroners.Public and Patient InvolvementPatients and members of the public were not involved in this study.ResultsSARS-CoV-2 was involved in 23 deaths reported by coroners in PFDs. Twelve deaths were indirectly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, defined as those that were not medically caused by SARS-CoV-2, but were associated with mitigation measures. In 11 cases the coroner explicitly reported that COVID-19 had directly caused death. There was geographical variation in the reporting of PFDs; most (39%) were written by coroners in the North-West of England. The coroners raised 56 concerns, problems in communication being the most common (30%), followed by failure to follow protocols (23%). Organizations in the National Health Service (NHS) were sent the most PFDs (51%), followed by the Government (26%), but responses to PFDs by these organizations were poor.ConclusionsPFDs contain a rich source of information on preventable deaths that has previously been difficult to examine systematically. Our openly available tool (https://preventabledeathstracker.net/) streamlines this process and has identified many concerns raised by coroners that should be addressed during the Government’s inquiry into the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, so that mistakes made are less likely to be repeated.Study protocol pre-registrationhttps://osf.io/bfypc/Summary boxWhat is already known about this subject?The UK Government has stated that there will be a public inquiry into the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, to learn lessons for future pandemics.Coroners in England and Wales have a duty to report and communicate information about the deaths they investigate when the coroner believes that action should be taken to prevent future deaths.These reports, called Prevention of Future Death reports (PFDs), had not yet been systematically analysed to identify deaths that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.What are the new findings?We created the Preventable Deaths Database (https://preventabledeathstracker.net/) using web scraping to systematically assess PFDs published on the Courts and Tribunal Judiciary website.Between 01 January 2020 and 28 June 2021, one in 20 (4.5%, n=23) PFDs that were published by coroners involved SARS-CoV-2.Coroners raised many concerns about the care of patients in hospitals, care homes, and people in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic, which require action to prevent future deaths.How might it affect clinical practice in the foreseeable future?Preventable deaths that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic should be referred to the coroner so that an inquest can be performed and a PFD issued, highlightng actions that could be avoided in improving the handling of future pandemics in both the UK and elsewhere.Our tool, https://preventabledeathstracker.net/, can be used by others to examine preventable deaths in England and Wales, and to identify signals for quality improvement to reduce avoidable harms in clinical practice.