Deaths in hospital
Most deaths now take place in a hospital or nursing home. If your relative dies in hospital, staff will contact you, lay out the body and arrange for it to be taken to the hospital mortuary. You will then be asked to arrange for the body to be collected by funeral directors, who will normally take it to their chapel of rest. At the same time, you will be asked to collect the person’s personal possessions.
Before a death can be formally registered, a doctor will need to issue a medical certificate giving the cause of death. In hospital, this is usually done by a hospital doctor, who will hand the certificate to you in a sealed envelope addressed to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. You will also be given a notice, explaining how to register the death. There is no charge for either of these. If the person has not been seen by a hospital doctor, their GP may be able to issue a certificate instead.
A hospital may ask you for permission to carry out a post-mortem examination to learn more about the cause of death. You do not have to agree to this.
In some cases, a doctor may not be able to issue a medical certificate of the cause of death. There may be a number of reasons for this. If the doctor isn’t able to issue a medical certificate, they will refer the death to the coroner. The coroner may order a post mortem examination. You do not have the right to object to a post-mortem ordered by the coroner, but you should tell the coroner if you have religious or other strong objections.
You can find out more information about when a death is reported to a coroner on the GOV.UK website at: www.gov.uk.
Where cremation is to take place, a second doctor will be needed to sign a certificate that the body has been examined. There will be a charge for this.
Deaths at home
When someone dies at home, their GP should be called as soon as possible. The GP will normally visit the house and, if the death was expected, should be able to issue a certificate giving the cause of death.
If you do not know the name of the GP, the person didn’t have a GP, or if the death happens outside normal GP practice opening hours, call 111 (the NHS non-emergency number) instead.
A doctor is not allowed to issue a certificate if they are unsure about the cause of death. When this happens the death must be reported to a coroner and the body will be taken to a hospital mortuary, where a post mortem may need to take place.
If a death takes place abroad it must be registered according to the law of that country. The death should also be reported to the British Consul who may be able to arrange for the death to be registered in the UK as well.
Returning a body to the UK is expensive but the cost may be covered by any travel insurance taken out by the person. If the death was on a package holiday the tour operator should be able to help with arrangements.
When a body is returned to the UK, the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for the district where the funeral is to take place must be told and will need to issue a certificate before burial can take place. If cremation is to take place the Home Office also needs to give permission.
If the death was not due to natural causes the coroner for the district will also need to be told and an inquest may need to take place.
Donation of organs for transplant or the body for medical research
Donation of organs
The person who died may have wanted to donate organs for transplant. This will be easier if they were on the NHS Organ Donor Register, carried a donor card and had discussed the donation plans with their family. Relatives will still be asked to give their consent before donation. Most organ donations come from people who have died while on a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit. For more information about organ donation and transplantation, contact:
Donation of the body for medical education or research
If you wish to leave your body for medical education or research, you must arrange to give consent before you die. You can get a consent form from your nearest medical school. You should keep a copy of the consent form with your will and tell your family, close friends and GP that you wish to donate your body. Go the Human Tissue Authority website to find out your local medical school at www.hta.gov.uk.
You can get further information about body donation from the Human Tissue Authority website at www.hta.gov.uk.
If the body is accepted (and many bodies are not suitable), the medical school will arrange for eventual cremation or burial.