Communio Managing Director, David Aro

Lifting the lid on new coronial services delivery

31 March 2019

This article was originally published in Funeralcare magazine, March 2019

Communio Managing Director David Aro answers questions about the company’s new coronial service delivery agreement with the Ministry of Justice

David, can you tell us in broad terms about your new agreement with the Ministry of Justice? 

Sure, Communio recently entered into a new agreement to provide coronial support services on behalf of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). Communio is the lead, but we’ll be working in a consortium, which includes a DHB and private pathology providers.

We’ll be delivering post-mortem examinations, managing mortuary facilities, and transporting tūpāpaku, or bodies, and returning tissue to whānau on behalf of the coroner. A significant driver for delivering the service is to ensure a consistent, efficient, end-to-end service across a large part of New Zealand. Communio is one of four suppliers of post-mortems services, which collectively provide nationwide coverage.

How will this bring consistency across the country to coronial support services? 

One of the things that’s really important for us, is that it doesn’t matter where in the country a tūpāpaku comes into our care; whether you are a coroner, police, transport provider or whānau, you should expect to receive a consistent service.

To ensure consistency, we’re talking to every one of the transport providers and police regions across the country. We’re initiating standard operating procedures and making sure there is visibility of those procedures both at a National Initial Investigation Office (NIIO) level, which is the front door of the coronial system, as well as making sure that all the transport providers and mortuaries that we are working with have those same procedures.

We also want to ensure that the most appropriate person does a given role. So, we look at each role and ask, “Who’s the best person to do this?”

What will it mean for whānau? 

One of the things regarding whānau, is that the Coroners’ Act articulates what access whānau can have to tūpāpaku, which is a decision made by the coroner. We need to meet the requirements of the coroner, but we’re applying the principles of kaitiaki, or guardianship, when we develop the process to support the coroner’s requirements. We still have work to do before we get those processes streamlined, but we want a consistent approach across the regions so whānau know what to expect.

Tell me a bit about being an end-to-end service. 

For probably the first time ever, MOJ has a service provider that is responsible for delivering end-to-end coronial support services, including collecting tūpāpaku from a location, holding that tūpāpaku at an appropriate facility, providing viewing services as directed by the coroner, and providing what we call close proximity services.

Also, we’re providing a post-mortem service in six mortuaries across the country, as well as providing pathologist services with a network of 14 anatomical pathologists and one forensic pathologist to provide the post-mortem service. We also do all the tissue return after a post-mortem as requested by whānau.

Explain the proximity services you mentioned. 

If someone dies suddenly, an ambulance or the police are called. When the police decide it should be referred to the coroner, they contact NIIO who then ask for the tūpāpaku to be collected and transferred from the scene. If the family want to view the tūpāpaku, that’s a formal process of requesting the coroner to allow them to view, and depending on the circumstances surrounding the death, the coroner may or may not give permission. But regarding proximity services, how close the family want to be to the tūpāpaku, which is often determined by religious or cultural reasons, they request those services from NIIO, but there's no formal direction from a coroner.

How are you designing and structuring the services provision? 

We are looking at how services are being provided across the system now, because there are some good services, but they're provided in isolation. For example, in Tauranga we've looked at how they use a holding facility in the community, and we’re using that as the basis of establishing all the services for all the holding facilities. All the processes we are putting in place today, are processes that have been in operation somewhere across the country for a minimum of two years. So, we've been able to learn from different services, fine tune them and then implement them as a national solution.

Tell us about the changing role of the police in the new operating model. 

Yes, there are some changes taking place in the coronial services area with regard to what the police will do. These changes have been driven by the police themselves. The police have taken the opportunity to look at how they’re delivering their services to the coroner, and as a result they’ve made some changes, which has meant we’re changing our process to ensure we deliver the services they request. For example, the police were doing things that were not necessarily an appropriate use of police time, like opening a door to let someone into a mortuary facility.

Can you talk a little bit about how you’re trying to innovate? 

One of the areas that we’re innovating in is ensuring that services like NIIO have timely information. This is about getting information to flow electronically, to NIIO and therefore to the coroners. We’ve developed the software that NIIO uses. This software is also used as an app on smart phones by the transport providers to ensure timely data is available.

Where do you see the system operating in about two years’ time? 

I think from a community perspective, in two years’ time, we will have something that’s common between all the service providers, providing the same level of quality service to whānau, police and the coroner. For me, that’s what I want to be a part of.

If you’d like to know more, contact David Aro on or 021 679 195.