Ontario’s health minister is being urged by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) to overrule closing the forensic pathology unit at Hamilton Health Sciences Centre and moving 1,300 medical-legal autopsies and investigations in sudden or suspicious deaths annually for Hamilton/Niagara/Brant to Toronto.

Calling the decision to close the unit, which contradicts the strategic plan for Ontario’s Death Investigation System, “poorly thought out,” today CUPE joined police and medical personnel in expressing serious concerns about the impacts and significant delays in autopsies, investigations and trials.

“I think the government should sit up and listen and reverse this decision,” said Dave Murphy, president of CUPE 7800. “When the decision also clearly contradicts the official provincial plan, the government should override the decision.”

The strategic plan for Ontario’s Death Investigation System dated 2015 to 2020 articulates the objective of: “Expanded and improved regional service delivery capacity with more cases being managed locally/regionally.”

“We dispute that closing this unit and moving its work to Toronto will generate savings of $3 million annually. Moving the unit will only shift the costs down the road and cause significant and costly delays in police investigations and trials, which are unaccounted for,” says Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE. “We believe that the true costs of moving the service, properly accounted for, would show no economic basis for making this decision.”

The Hamilton hospital pathology unit currently does death investigations, including homicides, pediatric deaths and overdoses, from Hamilton, Niagara, Haldimand, Norfolk, Brant and Dufferin. There are three full-time forensic pathologists in Hamilton, in addition to a team that includes recently hired autopsy technicians.

“The population of Hamilton, Niagara, Haldimand, Brant and Dufferin is large enough to warrant a forensic pathology service,” said Murphy. “Our communities will step up to defend this vital service, I believe.”