Document backlog in Finland as autopsies delayed

doctor1Some death certificates are taking more than a year to be released in Finland due to a shortage of forensic doctors. Although the law demands that official documents should be available within three months of a death, a lack of practitioners trained to perform autopsies in the country has left next of kin, the police and insurance companies waiting for months on end.

Even in cases which are fast-tracked, such as suspected homicides, papers are still slow to arrive, with some bodies waiting over a week just to be examined.

Riitta Kauppila, head physician of the Forensic Medicine unit of the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), told Helsingin Sanomat, “The burden is overwhelming for many. Nobody works [longer than] the official working hours.”

Despite an already alarming lack of specialist centres for forensic medicine in Finland, training at the University of Helsinki is also set to end next year. Many existing doctors are also close to retirement, with currently little hope of being replaced.

Kirsi Ruuhonen, from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, could not offer an immediate solution to the problem but said the future of the forensic science in Finland needs to be secured.

One in three deaths in Finland requires an autopsy and police request forensic tests on more than three quarters of bodies. Such additional evidence is needed if a death does not appear to be of natural causes and is thought to involve crime, suicide, medical malpractice, occupational disease, poisoning or an accident.