Expected Death in Hospital, Hospice or Care Home

When your loved one dies in hospital, hospice or a care home it may especially help you – and others close to them – to be able to spend time at home with them in comfort and privacy during the period between their death and their funeral.

If possible, discuss your plans with hospital staff before a death, remembering that it may be the first time that the member of staff has been asked about this and they may need time to find out how to help. The advantage of being in this setting is that staff will be available who can do the initial preparations/ washing of the body if this is what you wish. The usual routine in hospital immediately after a death goes something like this:

  1. staff give anyone attending some time alone with their loved one,
  2. you are then asked to leave to allow the staff to prepare the body for transfer to the mortuary, and you are given arrangements for collection of personal belongings and the death certificate and asked to arrange a funeral director,
  3. the body is taken to the hospital mortuary and cooled in a refrigerator,
  4. the body is taken from the hospital mortuary to a funeral directors’ premises by a funeral director.

In larger hospitals a Bereavement Service may be involved in some of the arrangements and liaison with next of kin. Hospices may have a special room where family can spend more time with their loved one. Care homes may not have storage facilities and so a body is taken directly to a funeral director’s premises.

Here are a few things to consider if you want to have control over what happens after the death of your loved one in this case:

  • After a death in Scotland no-one has ownership of the body. The next of kin have the right to decide what will happen to a body immediately after a death is verified and so the right to take it away immediately if that is what they wish. Hospital staff often do not know this and can insist that the death must be registered first – this is incorrect.
  • However, a doctor needs to write a Medical Certificate of Death, giving the cause of death (you then take this to a Registrar to register the death). It is at this point the Doctor decides whether there are any reasons to refer the death to the Procurator Fiscal eg unexplained death. This is not always done immediately after the death and so, if you move a body before this time, there could be difficulty with you interfering with evidence. If you wish to move a body quickly then inform medical staff so that they are aware a Medical Certificate of Death will be needed soon after the death.
  • Tell the staff as soon as possible if you have any particular wishes about what happens immediately after death, including you assisting with washing and dressing.
  • Some hospital mortuaries are more helpful than others to people who want to collect a body themselves.
  • It would be helpful to have a coffin available for transporting the body, although this is not strictly necessary so long as the body  is covered with something strong enough to handle. (Coffins can be bought online often much cheaper than that provided by a funeral director.)
  • Unless you have enough people robust enough to handle a body then it is wise to consider asking a funeral director to transport the body home.
  • Asking a funeral director to transport as a stand alone service gives you time to consider how you want to proceed with the rest of the arrangements. All funeral directors may not offer transport of a body as a stand alone service so you may need to shop around. The Natural Death Centre may be able to assist you to find one.