The State Laboratory has told coroners a lack of resources means it must increase the turnaround time for analysing toxicology samples to almost six months, causing additional delays in completing inquests and criminal prosecutions.
The Coroners Society of Ireland (CSI) described the development as “very disappointing”. Patrick O’Connor, public information officer for the CSI, told The Irish Times the matter is among several concerns to be raised by coroners with the Department of Justice.
“Any delay of this nature does cause concern and upset to families of those who have passed away,” he said.
The State Laboratory provides a forensic toxicology service to assist coroners and the State Pathologist to investigate the causes of sudden death by analysing postmortem samples for alcohol, legal and illegal drugs and other toxic substances. Since 2013, all postmortem samples nationwide have been submitted directly to the State Laboratory for screening and confirmatory analysis.
A communication sent earlier this month to coroners on behalf of the State Laboratory informed them that the laboratory lacks resources to rapidly process a “significant increase” in toxicology sample numbers over the past five years.
Because the laboratory is unable to meet the current turnaround time of 110 days, it had been decided to increase the turnaround to 160 days, it was stated.
Human toxicology sample numbers sent to the laboratory have risen from about 5,000 to 8,700 annually and are likely to rise further to 9,000 or 10,000 in coming years.
The laboratory had planned for a 4 per cent increase in toxicology samples year-on-year but sample numbers since 2021 were 10 per cent higher annually.
As the laboratory is currently resourced to analyse 7,600 samples a year, the increase means it will be unable to meet the current turnaround time of 110 days, it was stated.
It had been decided to increase the turnaround for 2023 to 160 days “as we will not have sufficient resources in place to service the current increase in the short to medium term”.
Coroners were informed the laboratory is working to reduce the turnaround “as soon as we can” and is also working on process improvements in house, including a full, in-depth review of how the service operates.
As part of the review, coroners have been asked to complete a customer satisfaction survey which includes questions on desired turnaround time and level of service. The survey will help “shape the service for the future and hopefully help towards getting the increased resources needed to meet your requirements”, it was stated.