Public Health England's (PHE) carbon monoxide (CO) pilot study, which aims to develop a protocol for coroners to test for CO at post mortem, is set to commence. The study is being funded by the Gas Safety Trust (GST).
The 2011 All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group (APPCOG) report identified a key role for coroners to support increased detection of CO poisoning in England and Wales. The report recommended that "the government should ensure that all coroners' post-mortems routinely test for carboxyhaemoglobin (COHb) levels".
The study will take the important first steps towards obtaining a more complete estimate of the number of deaths caused by CO poisoning, by testing for the gas at post-mortem.
This pilot is to be carried out before a national data collection exercise can be undertaken so the procedure can be defined, developed and implemented; the aim is to establish a protocol for testing and reporting of CO poisoning at post-mortem in England and Wales.
Chris Bielby, GST chairman, said: "We are thrilled that this pilot is due to commence as we have been long been seeking to determine a more accurate number of fatalities caused by CO poisoning in England and Wales. It is generally agreed that CO poisoning may be under-diagnosed by both medics and coroners due to its characteristics.
"The only way to properly investigate this is for CO levels to be tested at post-mortem and we are hopeful this pilot will develop a protocol that will allow us to reach the true scale of the problem in England and Wales."
Dr Giovanni Leonardi, head of the Environmental Epidemiology Group at PHE for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, said: "This is an important pilot study which will develop a method for establishing how often CO poisoning is being missed by clinicians and the impact this has on CO being identified as a cause of death. We will need to share this information with the coroners before they will consider wider testing for CO at post-mortem.
"We will also need to assess the extra burden wider testing would have on staff, including pathologists and laboratory workers."