What happens when someone dies in a hospital or care home

The professional staff that cared for the person will be able to provide you with the practical and emotional support after the death.

First things to do

The deceased has to be formally identified by their next of kin. The next of kin may also need to give permission for a hospital post-mortem examination if the cause of death has yet to be confirmed. However, a post-mortem examination may be carried out without consent.

The body will be kept at the hospital mortuary until you make arrangements with the funeral director, family or whoever you nominate to collect it. If you choose, the funeral directors can arrange to keep the body in their chapel of rest until the funeral takes place.

The hospital or care home staff will keep person’s personal possessions safe until arrangements are made to collect them.

Medical certificate

The hospital should provide you with a medical certificate indicating the cause of death. You need the certificate before registering the death. The medical certificate will come in a sealed envelope addressed to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. If the body will be cremated, two doctors will sign the certificate to show that the body has been examined. This will be a chargeable service.

Organ and body donation

If the person was an organ donor, it’s best to notify the hospital and care home staff as soon as possible. Different hospitals and care homes have their own policies on how to deal with this. Hospitals may approach you with a request if they feel that an organ donation may help someone in need of a transplant, organs cannot be removed without your consent. If the deceased wanted to donate their body to medical science, contact the Human Tissue Authority (HTA). Not all bodies will be accepted – for example, if there has been a post-mortem examination or if organs have been removed.

What to do next

You must register the person’s death at a local register office within five days. An appointment is usually needed. You’ll also need to take the medical certificate with you. After registering the death you’ll be given a death certificate, which means you can go ahead with the funeral.

It’s also advisable to:

Make sure everyone who needs to know is told
Try to find the will
Arrange to see the deceased’s solicitor and find read the will as soon as possible
Begin funeral arrangements

If you are not satisfied with the hospital or care home service

If you find that the service you receive from the care home or hospital is not up to standard, you must go through the hospital or care-home complaints procedure.

Otherwise, you can contact the Health Service Ombudsman, who can carry out an independent investigation. The helpline for the Ombudsman is 0845 015 4033 (open Monday to Friday 9.00 am to 8.00 pm and Saturday 9.00 am to 1.00 pm).

If the hospital or care home is privately run you can take your complaint to the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) helpline 0845 015 0120 (open Monday to Friday, 8.30 am to 5.30 pm).

Bereavement – counseling and support

Everyone deals with bereavement in their own way. If you or someone you know needs counselling or support, ask your family doctor or contact a relevant organisation.

Your local authority may provide support and advice about the arrangements that need to be made after a bereavement, such as registering the death and obtaining a death certificate.