Someone Dies in a Hospital, Hospice or Care Home

When someone dies in a hospital, hospice or 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 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 their body if this is what you wish.

The usual routine immediately after someone dies goes something like this:

  1. staff give those present some time alone with them,
  2. you are then asked to leave to allow the staff to prepare them for transfer to the mortuary, you are given arrangements for collection of personal belongings and the death certificate and asked to arrange a funeral director,
  3. they are taken to the mortuary and placed in a refrigerator,
  4. they are taken from the 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 the person who has died. Care homes may not have storage facilities and so someone is taken directly from their room out of the building.

Here are a few things to consider if you want to have control over what happens when someone dies in this case:

  • After a death in Scotland no-one has ownership of the person who has died. The next of kin have the right to decide what will happen to someone’s body immediately after a death is verified and so the right to take it away immediately if that is what they wish. 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 someone before this time, there could be difficulty with you interfering with evidence. If you wish to move someone 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 someone who has died themselves.
  • It would be helpful to have a coffin available for transport, although this is not strictly necessary so long as the person is covered with something strong enough to handle. (Coffins can be bought online often cheaper than that provided by a funeral director.)
  • Unless you have enough people robust enough to handle someone’s body then it is wise to consider asking a funeral director to transport them 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 someone’s body as a stand alone service so you may need to shop around.