Online survey of current autopsy practice

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The Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath) has for several years published guidance on good autopsy practice. However, pressures such as time, cost and the introduction of the Human Tissue Act have generated suggestions that there is a discrepancy between the published guidelines and what can realistically be achieved in daily practice. The aims of this study were to determine the extent to which practising pathologists agree with this complaint, and what suggestions they might have for its resolution.


All histopathologists in the UK on the RCPath database (n = 1213) were sent an email invitation to participate in an online questionnaire.


406 pathologists completed the survey, providing numerical data and free-text responses. Results concerning pressures of time, resources and limitations on examination and sampling were in keeping with those expected from recent issues raised. The view that RCPath guidelines are higher than can be achieved in routine coronial autopsy practice was widely supported, but only 45% stated that the RCPath should publish separate guidelines to differentiate between hospital (“consent”) autopsies and medico-legal cases.


The circumstances under which coronial autopsies are conducted in many parts of the UK make it difficult or impossible to comply with current RCPath guidance. Pathologists disagree on whether this situation demands a reduction of RCPath standards, an improvement in autopsy practice in medico-legal cases to current RCPath standards, or the implementation of “double standards”. Resolution of this dilemma requires clarification of exactly what a coronial autopsy is trying to achieve.

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