What To Do When Someone Dies

If a Relative Dies at Home

When a death which has been expected occurs at home or at a nursing home, the doctor who has been treating the deceased should be contacted.  Provided the deceased has seen a doctor during their final illness (within the previous 14 days) the doctor or a colleague will either attend to confirm that death has occurred, or will give permission for the deceased to brought into our care, if it is your wish for this to happen.

If a Relative Dies in Hospital

If a relative who has been a hospital in-patient dies, the doctors who have been treating them will usually be able to issue the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death.  The ward staff, doctor or hospital’s bereavement office should tell you what you need to do to collect this certificate, but if they have not, we can advise on the whereabouts of this.

Most hospitals will give family members the opportunity to sit with their loved one before transfer from the ward or private room.  There may even be a chapel of rest at the hospital specifically for this purpose.  The deceased will then be taken to the mortuary from where they will be brought into our care once the hospital has finalised the necessary paperwork.

The Doctor Says He Won’t Issue The Medical Certificate of Cause of Death. Why?

If the doctor will not issue a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death it is usually because the circumstances surrounding the death mean it should be referred to H. M. Coroner for further investigation.  The doctor can only complete the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death if they know the cause of death having seen the deceased for this illness in the 14 days prior to death occurring.  The doctor cannot issue the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death if the deceased:-

  1. has died a violent or an unnatural death;
  2. has died a sudden death of which the cause is unknown;
  3. has died in prison or in such a place or in such circumstances as to require an inquest under any other Act.

If the death does not fall into these criteria but the deceased underwent an operation shortly before death or there is a suggestion of a possible industrial disease, then it is probable that the doctor will not complete the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death but refer the death to H. M. Coroner in whose sub-district the death occurred.

If the death is referred to H.M. Coroner their office will arrange for the deceased to be taken to their mortuary in order that the death can be investigated and, if necessary, an inquest opened.

What Does Her Majesty’s Coroner Do?

The office of H. M. Coroner dates from Saxon times and has evolved down the centuries.  Generally, H. M. Coroner has been, and is, one who acts on behalf of the Crown in legal matters connected with disaster and property rights, treasure trove, shipwreck and the like, thus leading to the investigation of the many deaths which occurred at such a time.  Having complete jurisdiction over all sudden and unexplained deaths was a natural extension of their powers, and this forms the main part of their work today.

Why Do GPs Charge For Cremation Forms?

A deceased person cannot be cremated until the cause of death has been ascertained and properly recorded. The cause of death must then be verified by a second doctor, entirely independent of the first.

The British Medical Association (BMA) website sets out the procedure as follows:-

“Before cremation can take place two certificates need to be signed, one by the GP and one by another doctor. Cremation Form 4 must be completed by the registered medical practitioner who attended the deceased during their last illness.  Form 5 must be completed by a registered medical practitioner who is neither a partner nor a relative of the doctor who completed Form 4.

A fee can be charged for the completion of both Forms 4 and 5 as this does not form part of a doctor’s NHS duties.  Doctors normally charge these fees to the funeral firm, which generally passes on the cost to the family.  Doctors are also entitled to charge a mileage allowance, where appropriate.

The doctors’ fees are set by the BMA and are reviewed annually.