If the person dies at a Hospital, if you are the next of kin, the hospital staff should inform you of what to do. If the deceased had registered to donate an organ or tissue then the hospital staff should contact the transplant coordinator who will talk with you and take you through the steps necessary. Be prepared that the organs will have to be removed very shortly after the death.
Most hospitals these days have specially trained bereavement staff who will guide you through documentation issues and explain all the relevant procedures to you. Sometimes however it may just be the ward staff present.
There are documents to complete and you should be prepared for the length of time this may take. Only medical staff that were involved directly with the care of the deceased can complete the required documents. This may not be immediately after the death, and most hospitals will arrange an appropriate appointment time for you to collect the necessary documents along with any belongings of the deceased. You may be asked to sign formal release papers so the belongings of the deceased can be given to you.
On occasions where the cause of death is not apparent, or if the death has been sudden and unexpected, the medical staff will have to refer the death to the coroner. This will mean that they will be unable to issue the Medical Certificate. The coroner’s office will inform you about when you can register the death.
You will then be asked to arrange for a funeral director who will collect the deceased from the hospital. It will be necessary to sign a form giving authority to the funeral director to remove the deceased.
If the person dies at home or in a care home, if the death was unexpected, you should dial 999 and ask for an ambulance and police immediately. You will be told what to do by the operator to establish whether you can try and resuscitate the person. The paramedics will carry out resuscitation or will confirm the death. Leave the area untouched apart from any attempt at resuscitation.
If it was an expected death following an illness you should contact the deceased’s own GP or deputising service if out of hours. If it is a deputising doctor you do not have to contact the deceased’s own GP until the following day.
If the cause of death is known and from natural causes the doctor will provide the necessary documents to enable you to register the death.
If the death was sudden or unexpected, the police will arrange for the deceased to be removed by a funeral director acting for the coroner’s office. If it was an expected death and the doctor has certified you may call a funeral director of your own choice when you feel able. Funeral directors provide a service 24 hours a day and will come whenever you wish.
If the doctor is unsure about the actual cause of death even if it was clearly from natural causes, or if the deceased died suddenly and had not been under a doctor’s care during the past 14 days, or the death is unnatural, they will contact the coroner (or procurator fiscal in Scotland). The coroner or procurator fiscal may order a post mortem examination to determine the cause of death and then issue the documents allowing the death to be registered.
Due to the nature of the need to remove organs quickly for transplant, it is not usual to donate organs following a death at home. It may still be possible though to donate tissue. Inform the doctor and funeral director of any such wishes the deceased may have had as soon as possible as it may be necessary to take the deceased to a hospital instead of the funeral home.
In situations where specialist cleaning services are required following an unexpected death, there are specialist companies that provide such a service. They will carry out their duties with discretion and sensitivity. The attending police or funeral director will be able to advise you.
If the death occurs in a public place, that is anywhere that is not someone’s own home or a care facility. This might be a school, a hotel, sports club, shop or a street. Usually the emergency services such as the police and an ambulance, are called as the death is usually unexpected.
If the death appears to have been natural but the ambulance service feels that further resuscitation and transfer to hospital is not required, the police will usually arrange for the funeral director working for the coroner to remove the body to the nearest public mortuary (this may be located at a hospital). The ambulance service may do this if the deceased person is located in a very public place, such as a shop.
As most deaths in public places are unexpected, they are reported by the police to the coroner who will usually order a post mortem examination unless a doctor has been treating the person for a condition which might have caused a sudden collapse.
If the death was unnatural, the police will be in charge of the area and will arrange for a funeral director working for the coroner to remove the body to the nearest public mortuary. This may be at a hospital.