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Amid growing mistrust in medical services, the health ministry will set up an independent body to investigate whether suspicious deaths have been caused by malpractice, ministry officials said Saturday.

As a preparatory measure, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry plans to launch an experimental project in fiscal 2005, which begins April 1, in designated areas in cooperation with medical associations after studying similar bodies in Britain and the United States, the officials said.

The decision to establish the body was made because of an increase in the number of disputes between medical institutions and the families of patients who have died unexpectedly after treatment, the officials said.

Under the current system, police conduct investigations into medical accidents but investigative information is not provided to the families until trials begin.

Medical institutions are currently required to report to police “unusual” deaths.

The ministry plans to create a new category called “medical treatment-related” deaths, subject to investigations by the organization at the request of patients’ families.

The organization will ask specialists to conduct autopsies and analyze medical records of a patient to determine whether death was caused by malpractice.

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