If the death occurs in hospital
The hospital staff will contact whoever is named as the next of kin. This may be a relative. You can talk to the hospital chaplain if you wish, ask the nurse on the ward and she will give you details. The hospital will keep the body in the hospital mortuary until arrangements have been made for the funeral. Most Funeral Directors have a chapel of rest in which the deceased will be held pending the funeral. The hospital will arrange for the nearest relative to collect the deceased’s possessions.
If you discover a body or the death is sudden or unexpected, you should contact the following people:
- the family doctor if known
- the deceased's nearest relative
- the deceased's minister of religion
- the police, who will help you find the above listed people if necessary
If you suspect that the death was not due to natural causes, do not touch or remove anything from the scene. The death may be reported to the coroner. The doctor may ask relatives for permission to carry out a post-mortem examination. This is a medical examination of the body, which can find out more about the death and should not delay the funeral.
If an expected death occurs elsewhere
Contact the doctor who attended the deceased during their final illness. If the doctor can certify the cause of death he/she will give you the following:
- a medical certificate that shows the cause of death (usually given in a sealed envelope addressed to the registrar)
- a formal notice that the Doctor has signed the Medical Certificate and tells you how to get the death registered.
You may wish to contact the deceased’s Minister of Religion if you have not already done so. Arrangements for the funeral should also be made with your chosen Funeral Director.
Reporting the death to a Coroner
In any of the following circumstances the doctor may report the death to the coroner:
- an accident or injury
- an industrial disease
- during a surgical operation
- before recovery from an anaesthetic
- if the cause of death in unknown
- if the death was sudden or unexplained, for instance a sudden infant death (cot death)
You will be advised if the death has to be reported to the Coroner. If so the death cannot be registered and the funeral cannot take place, without the Coroner's authorisation. Where a death is reported to the Coroner, the Coroner's Officer will contact the relatives.
A Coroner can order a post-mortem examination without the relative's permission. This examination will ascertain the cause of death. He may also wish to hold an investigation into the circumstances leading up to a death. (This is called an inquest).
When an inquest is called, the Coroners Officer will contact the relatives. This should not cause undue distress, as it is a legal formality.
In such cases the Death Certificate will be issued direct to you from the Coroner's Officer. The relatives must then go to register the death. When an inquest is to be held, the death cannot be registered until the conclusion of the inquest, but a certificate will normally be issued at the opening of the inquest to allow the funeral to take place.
Arrangements if a death occurs in Scotland
If a death occurs in Scotland it must be registered there. If the cremation is to take place in England or Wales, the following documents are needed by the crematorium medical referees.
- Either a Form A (revised Scottish Application for Cremation) this provides further information on implants and hazards or a Form 1 – Application for Cremation of the body of a person that has died.
- Form 14 containing the certifying doctors’ contact details
- A full extract, for example including cause of death, of the entry in the Register of Deaths (from the registrar in Scotland, there is a fee of £10) or a Procurator Fiscal Form E (1).
The coroner for the area where the cremation will take place should be informed. The registrar for the area should also be informed as they will need to issue A Certificate of No Liability to Register a Death in England & Wales.
Foetal and Body Parts
The Council in conjunction with Gateshead Health Trust and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead also provide Foetal Remains and Dignified Disposal of Body Parts Services. Further details of these services can be obtained from the Bereavement Services Office.