We are often quite unprepared for dealing with the practical side of death when it occurs. The immediate steps typically depend on where the death occurred and whether or not it was expected.
The key steps are provided below based on where the death occurred:
The death occurred at a hospital
The hospital will contact the next of kin if no family were present when the death occurred. You will have an opportunity to come and say goodbye in the ward or a private room at the hospital. You will also be asked to collect the personal belongings. The hospital can also arrange for you to speak with the medical team and hospital chaplains should you wish to do so.
The body will then be transferred to the hospital mortuary where it will be kept until it is collected prior to the funeral. It will be taken to a chapel of rest or transported directly to the crematorium (in the case of a direct cremation). Some crematoriums have the facility to keep the body refrigerated prior to the cremation at a fraction of the cost of a funeral home.
You should make an appointment with the hospital bereavement office or patient affairs office who will then liaise with you to help you with the practical side of things. In the meantime you can start organising the paperwork, dealing with the estate and arranging the funeral.
Organ donation and medical research
If the person carried a donor card, was listed on the NHS Organ Donor Register, or told you or someone else they wanted their organs to be donated, you should tell the hospital staff or GP.
The sooner you tell them, the more likely it is the deceased person’s wishes can be carried out, as organs need to be removed quickly. If the death is to be reported to the coroner, you may need the coroner’s consent.
The person who died may have made a special request to have their body donated to medical science. They will have made arrangements with their nearest medical school and told their family and GP. A member of the family should contact the medical school for advice.
The death occurred at home
If the death was expected and occurred at home, call the family doctor immediately. The doctor needs to pronounce the person deceased and give you a medical certificate showing the cause of death. The family doctor will also give you a formal notice of death (this confirms they’ve signed the medical certificate). Sometimes if you can’t get hold of your regular doctor, a locum will issue a temporary notice of death and you can then collect the official one from your doctor the next day.
If the death was unexpected or the doctor has not seen the deceased for over fourteen days then you need to report the death to the coroner, in which case start by calling the police on 101.
The death was sudden or unexpected
If the cause of death is unknown, the death was the result of an accident or the person who died had not been seen by their GP in the last 14 days, the death will likely be reported to the coroner.
HM Coroner is charged with investigating all sudden and unexpected deaths to establish the cause of death. The coroner may call for a post-mortem or inquest, which will delay things – but you can still make provisional arrangements for the funeral.
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