What should I do if a relative dies at home?

What should I do if a relative dies at home?

  • If the person passes away at home without hospice care, call 999. Paramedics will generally start emergency procedures and, except where permitted to pronounce death, take the person to hospital for a doctor to make the declaration.
  • If the person passes away at home under hospice care, call the hospice nurse, who can declare the death and help facilitate the next steps.

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 the 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 be transferred to a funeral firm’s premises, if it is your wish for this to happen. You can then contact the funeral firm of your choice, which will attend to transfer the deceased to its premises.

The Doctor says he won’t issue the medical certificate of cause of death. Why is this?

If the doctor will not issues a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death it is usually because the circumstances surrounding the death mean it should be referred to HM 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:-

  • Has died a violent or an unnatural death;
  • Has died a sudden death of which the cause is unknown;
  • 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 HM Coroner in whose sub-district the death occurred.
  • If the death is referred to HM 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 HM Coroner dates from Saxon times and has evolved down the centuries. Generally, HM 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 his/her powers, and this forms the main part of his/her work today.

Originally HM Coroner was named ‘Coronae Curia Regis’- the keeper of the royal pleas. Today, the correct title of HM Coroner is – ‘Her Majesty’s Coroner for usually the whole or part of a Local Authority area, ie ‘Her Majesty’s Coroner for Southampton’.

The main duties of the Coroner today are:-

  • To investigate all sudden and unexpected deaths,
  • To investigate all deaths that happen abroad where the body is repatriated to the United Kingdom;
  • To give permission to remove bodies out of England and Wales;
  • To act for the Crown in respect of treasure trove.

The holder of the post of HM Coroner usually has a legal background and is not infrequently a solicitor. He/she can also be a doctor with a legal background, and is occasionally both. Although the Local Authority supplies the Coroner Service, paying all costs – including the costs of removals by funeral firms acting on behalf of the Coroner – the Coroner is not employed by the Authority, being only answerable to the Crown in the person of one of Her Majesty’s Secretaries of State, namely the Home Secretary.

The Coroner Service is administered by HM Coroner who is assisted by a Deputy, as the service has to be available at all times. In the major jurisdictions HM Coroner may have a Coroner’s Court, offices and a public mortuary all in one facility. However, HM Coroners mostly operate from solicitors’ offices or the like, using Local Authority or hospital mortuaries. In addition to having clerical help, HM Coroners, are assisted by a Coroner’s Officer or Officers. Normally, the Coroner’s Officer is a Police Officer seconded to the Coroner Service working on a full time basis – in plain clothes; however, in more rural areas it can be any Police Officer on duty. With the increasing civilianisation of many areas of Police work, the office is often held by a retired Police Officer or other civilians with some legal background.

The Coroner’s Officer assists by taking statements from witnesses, carrying out investigations required by HM Coroner, arranging for the removal of the body to the appropriate mortuary and generally liaising between the family, pathologist, funeral firm and HM Coroner.

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