The spectre of hearses streaming to and from Hamilton, Niagara, Dufferin, Haldimand and Brant to Toronto, challenging Toronto’s ability to cope with the rising demand for autopsies and investigations, was raised today by CUPE.

The Public Inquiry into the Safety and Security of Residents in the Long Term Care Homes System recommended July 31 that many more autopsies be performed on residents who die in long-term care,” said Dave Murphy, president of CUPE 7800, which represents staff at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS). “This is new information, unknown when the decision to close pathology at HHS was made and it begs the question, ‘how can the provincial government now close a forensic pathology service that is already the second busiest service in Ontario?’ Surely, in the face of this new and unexpected demand, the government will reconsider.”

The strategic plan for Ontario’s Death Investigation System (2015 to 2020) articulates the objective of: “Expanded and improved regional service delivery capacity with more cases being managed locally/regionally.” The Hamilton hospital pathology unit currently does death investigations, including homicides, pediatric deaths and overdoses. There are three full-time forensic pathologists in Hamilton, in addition to a team that includes recently hired autopsy technicians.

CUPE has urged the health minister to overrule the closure of the forensic pathology unit. Police, crown prosecutors and medical personnel have expressed serious concerns about the impacts and fears of significant delays in autopsies, investigations and trials.

“This is an example of centralization that makes no sense fiscally, environmentally, or in terms of efficient and timely medical investigation. Closing this unit will not save $3 million annually – it will shift costs and cause significant and costly delays in police investigations and trials. These new costs will be borne by municipalities and by other ministries,” says Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Union/CUPE.”

“The population of Hamilton, Niagara, Haldimand, Brant and Dufferin is large enough to warrant a forensic pathology service,” said Murphy. “Northern Ireland, with a smaller population, has many more pathologists and they don’t work in London, England.”