Press Release

Press Statement from General Register Office

The Registrar General of The General Register Office wishes to clarify some points of fact in relation to the recent discussions in the media on the subject of the loss of some Medical Certificates of the Cause of Death .

The registration of deaths is carried out by District Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages, who operate under the general direction of the Registrar General.

Paper Trail involved in Medical Certificates of Cause of Death arriving at the General Register Office

If a person dies in hospital the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death is completed by the consultant who has treated the deceased or by a member of the consultant’s team.

The certificate is then usually passed on to the staff member of the hospital who has the responsibility for ensuring that deaths are registered with the local births, deaths and marriages Registrar. A relative of the deceased may also request to register the birth and in this instance, the certificate is given to the family member.

This person brings the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death to the local Registrar and s/he records the relevant information in the register. Both the hospital representative (or the relative) called the qualified informant, and the registrar endorse the validity of the record in the register by their signatures. The qualified informant leaves the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death with the Registrar.

The Registrar forwards the certificate along with other certificates to the Central Statistics Office where statistical information is extracted from the certificate.

The certificate is, after a number of years, forwarded to the General Register Office for storage.

Medical Certificates of the Cause of Death

Medical Certificates of Cause of Death have been used as part of the registration process since the introduction of the civil registration of deaths in 1864. Their purpose is to ensure that the correct cause of death is entered in the Register of Deaths. These Registers constitute a permanent continuous legal record and have been preserved.

However, the Medical Certificates of Cause of Death, while facilitating the proper registration of the death, are not part of the register and were, in the past, not retained indefinitely. In similar manner, Coroners’ Certificates have been used to facilitate the proper registration of deaths since 1864 and are not retained indefinitely.

The Registration Acts require An tÁrd Cláraitheoir (Registrar General) to supply registered medical practitioners and hospitals with blank forms for certifying causes of death. Where a person has been attended by a registered medical practitioner in his/her last illness that doctor is obliged to issue a Medical Certificate of the Cause of Death to one of a specified number of persons. This group of persons include the nearest relative present at death, other relatives and designated members of hospital staff.

The person who receives the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death is then obliged to give information concerning the death of the deceased to the Registrar of Births and Deaths for the district and to sign the death register.

Traditionally hospital authorities have acted as informants and signed the Register of Deaths in relation to most deaths that occur in hospitals.

After the death has been registered the Registrar sends the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death to the Central Statistics Office.

Where a death is referred to the Coroner, s/he may decide to hold an inquest or decide not to hold an inquest on the basis of a post-mortem examination. In such circumstances, the Coroner issues a certificate to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages containing all information required for the registration of that death. Coroners’ certificates are also forwarded to the Central Statistics Office.

After the Central Statistics Office has completed its analysis the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death and Coroners’Certificates are sent to the General Register Office after a number of years.

Loss of Medical Certificates of the Cause of Death pertaining to 1993

The General Register Office uses part of the basement in the Custom House as a secure storage area. This storage area is used to store material for which there is a low demand and is accessed as and when material is required. During a review of stock in this storage area in 1998 it was discovered that Medical Certificates of the Cause of Death, believed to relate to 1993 only, had been water-damaged and were unfortunately illegible and unusable and consequently a decision was made to dispose of the certificates. These certificates were destroyed by a private contractor under direct supervision by a staff member of the General Register Office. All Medical Certificates of Cause of Death are now stored in General Register Office headquarters, Joyce House.

Points of Clarification

  • The Department of Health and Children has no record of Medical Certificates of the Cause of Death being stored in O’Connell Bridge House as stated in media reports yesterday.
  • The 1993 certificates could not have been destroyed in a flood occurring in 1993 (as reported in the media). The 1993 certificates were forwarded from the Central Statistics Office to the General Register Office in 1998.
  • There have been 17 requests to the General Register Office for copies of Medical Certificates of the Cause of Death in recent months. As the records are not in any defined chronological or alphabetical order a request for a particular certificate necessitates manual searching of the entire stock of certificates (approximately 200,000). This system is time-consuming and inefficient.
  • In order to facilitate the efficient and timely retrieval of Medical Certificates of the Cause of Death for parents requesting same, the General Register Office has contracted a company to electronically scan and index the existing certificates. The existing certificates relate to the years 1989 to 1996. There are approximately 200,000 such certificates and the work is expected to be completed by the end of March.
  • Historically, once the information was extracted from the certificates for Central Statistics purposes and the entry was completed in the Register of Deaths the information in the certificates was of no additional value to the Civil Registration Service and the certificates were destroyed after a period of time. This practice has now ceased and all existing and future certificates will be electronically scanned and indexed.