Ireland must recognise forensic pathology, says Marie Cassidy

Retired State pathologist Marie Cassidy has said the future of the office can only be secured when the specialism is recognised, which would allow forensic pathologists to be trained in Ireland.

In the 2017 ‘Annual Report of the Office of the State Pathologist’, Dr Cassidy wrote: “The next challenge for the Office of the State Pathologist will be to secure recognition of the speciality of forensic pathology in Ireland. Forensic pathology is recognised in the UK, USA, and most of Europe.

“Without recognition, we cannot offer a training scheme for forensic pathology in Ireland,” he said. “Only once it is recognised, can we secure the future of the Office of the State Pathologist by providing home-trained forensic pathologists.”

It was announced last September that Dr Cassidy would be stepping down from the role she had occupied for 14 years and she retired in December. She came to Ireland in 1998 and is originally from Glasgow.

Responding to Dr Cassidy’s comments, a spokesman for the Department of Justice said Ireland does not as yet recognise the medical speciality of forensic pathology.

“In order to ensure long-term succession planning in the Office of the State Pathologist, the Department of Justice and Equality’s intention is to develop a local pool of suitably qualified forensic pathologists,” said the spokesman.

“However, before such arrangements can be put in place, the Irish Medical Council, which is the body responsible for the recognition of medical specialities in Ireland, would have to recognise forensic pathology as a speciality, before a training scheme can be approved.

“The Irish Medical Council’s procedures for speciality recognition have been closed for over a year, while it was reviewing its processes. The Irish Medical Council has recently re-opened the process and the Office of the State Pathologist and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland are currently working closely together on an application for speciality recognition to be submitted to the Irish Medical Council.”

The 2017 annual report showed that 261 cases were dealt with by the office; there were 255 cases in 2016.

Highlighting the 24/7 nature of the job, it said: “In 2017, 34% of cases occurred on the same day as another case. This required the services of either two forensic pathologists in different parts of the country or for one pathologist to carry out two postmortem examinations in the same mortuary or to travel between mortuaries to conduct the postmortems.

“The majority of the cases in 2017 were ‘State’ forensic cases, which amounted to 64% of the total workload [167 cases]. The ‘State’ cases can also involve a visit to the scene of death, as well as a postmortem examination. Attendance at the scene of death was recorded in 17.5% of such cases.”

It said 58 adult coronial/non-forensic autopsies were carried out under the jurisdiction of the Dublin Coroner and that there were 19 cases of skeletonised remains, 14 of which were identified as animal bones and five identified as human.

Those five cases were ancient and referred to the National Museum of Ireland.

In all, 17 cases were referred to the office for expert opinion in 2017, which, in some instances, led to a court appearance. 

Autopsies were most likely to take place on a Monday.

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