The North’s State Pathology Department has achieved just half the recommendations contained in a major probe into its services more than a year ago, it emerged today.
Amid continued concerns over delays in completing post mortem reports, the Criminal Justice Inspection (CJI) revealed pathologists in Belfast have still not fully developed cross-border co-operation with their professional colleagues in Dublin.
An independent staff appraisal system, which was to have been completed by last December, is still outstanding, a follow-up review by the watchdog found.
Jobs plans that were to have been introduced for all pathologists a year ago have also yet to be finalised.
With only 15 of the 30 recommendations fully acted on since the CJI’s first findings in June 2005, Chief Inspector Kit Chivers expressed dismay at the sluggish progress by the department and the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), which funds it.
He said: “The key recommendation made by CJI in its original report concerning the status, governance and accountability of the State Pathologist’s Department needs immediate action.
“The relationship between the State Pathologist’s Department and the NIO also needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency as it runs the risk of damaging the quality of service delivered to the public.”
Mr Chivers urged bosses to recruit a new consultant pathologist and review the distribution of post-mortem workloads in a bid to ease the delay on reports.
“Improved tracking and monitoring of cases has showed there were 566 outstanding cases in July 2006, of which 179 cases were waiting more than five months,” he said.
The chief inspector is to carry out a further assessment of the outstanding recommendations in 12 months' time, he confirmed.
Mr Chivers also praised some areas of work by the department based at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital and headed by Professor Jack Crane.
He added: “The review confirmed the overall quality of the forensic pathology service was good and that the department continues to complete most post-mortem examinations within 24 hours of notification.
“Inspectors also found the quality of autopsy work carried out by the State Pathologist’s Department was professionally regarded as high and there have been no recent challenges to the quality or independence of the forensic pathology service.
“We also found good progress could be reported in the preparation of a new mortuary and accommodation for State Pathologist’s Department staff on the site of the Royal Group of Hospitals and a new case-management system had been fully implemented.”