Post mortem FAQs

What do I do if someone dies suddenly?

Contact your GP or the local police. The police, acting for the Coroner, will arrange for a local Funeral Director to attend to move the deceased. In most cases the deceased’s own doctor or a hospital doctor will be able to give a medical cause of death. If the death occurs at night or at a weekend there may be a delay in contacting the deceased’s GP

Why are the police involved?

The police act as Coroner’s Officers, although the officer may be in uniform, in this instance they will not be acting as a police officer (it is not always possible for an officer to be in plain clothes). A visit by the police should not make people think there is anything suspicious about the death. The purpose of the visit is to obtain the information that the Coroner needs to conduct her enquiries and to provide the correct personal information to the Registrar. You will be given a telephone number for the Coroner’s office and a Coroner’s Officer will be assigned and will be able to answer any questions you may have. The duties of a Coroner’s Officer are:

  • To liaise with the family regarding the procedures involved in the conduct of the Coroner’s inquiry
  • To contact the Coroner on your behalf if you so wish and to guide you through the time leading up to an inquest if one is necessary
  • To liaise with the witnesses regarding their involvement in the inquest

What if the deceased dies unexpectedly in hospital?

If the death occurs in hospital and the hospital doctors cannot ascertain the cause of death, the Coroner will arrange for a Post Mortem examination to be carried.

Why have a Post Mortem?

A Post Mortem is an examination of the body of a person who has died. It is sometimes referred to as an autopsy. If the deceased’s own GP or the hospital doctor cannot give a medical cause of death then an examination must take place to determine the cause.

Can I object to a Post Mortem?

Although the Coroner will be mindful of any views held by members of the family it is for the Coroner alone to decide whether a Post Mortem must take place. The Coroner has a legal duty to ascertain the cause of death, and if a doctor cannot satisfy the Coroner of this then a Post Mortem examination must take place.

Why are tissues/organs sometimes removed from the body of the deceased and what happens to these?

Sometimes the Pathologist needs to carry out a more detailed investigation of particular organs in order to establish the cause of death. If he/she does this then the Pathologist must tell the Coroner for how long the tissues/organs should be retained. The Coroner will notify the family of this and ask them to confirm what they wish to happen to the tissue/organs at the end of that period. Usually, the Pathologist only needs to take a very small sample of an organ, rather than removing the organ itself. This sample then forms part of the deceased’s medical records. More information is available on the website for the Human Tissue Authority.

Will a Post Mortem delay the funeral?

Not usually. The Coroner and Pathologist understand the desire on the part of the family to deal with matters expeditiously, particularly in cases where the religious or cultural beliefs of the family require a funeral to be held within a particular time period. However there are some cases where a slight delay occurs. In such cases an explanation will be given to the family together with an estimate of how long the delay will be.

When can I get a death certificate/interim death certificate?

When the Coroner is given a cause of death by the pathologist, the Coroner will notify the Registrar of the death. This will happen normally within 24 hours.You may then register the death. You must do this in person. If the Coroner has decided to hold an inquest or is awaiting further results from tissue analysis etc. then a full death certificate will not be available until after the inquest/investigation is concluded. However to enable the family to deal with banks, insurance companies, pension provider, National Savings, or any other body which needs official confirmation of the death, the Coroner will, on request, issue an Interim Certificate as to the Fact Of Death, more commonly known as an Interim Death Certificate. The interim certificate is not a death certificate. Copies of this are supplied to the next of kin once the inquest/investigation has been opened.

Hospital (consented) Post Mortem Examination

Sometimes a request for a Post Mortem examination is made to the relatives by the doctors treating the deceased patient, in order to increase medical knowledge and the effect of any treatment received. The relatives may also wish to request this in order to gain a better understanding of what happened.

The written permission of the next of kin will be obtained by one of the Mortuary team or Bereavement Advisers who will also explain the procedure. The consent form is designed to be flexible and the examination can be restricted if you wish.

The hospital will issue the medical certificate of the cause of death prior to the request of a clinical post-mortem examination.

Further information – Information about Post Mortems for Friends and Relatives