Care Guides > What Happens When Someone Dies in a Care Home

What Happens When Someone Dies in a Care Home

3/14/2022

If your loved one passes away whilst living in a care home, the workers who have looked after them will be there to offer practical and emotional support.

It will inevitably be a difficult time after a cherished relative dies, but there are procedures in a care facility that must still be adhered to. The staff will help you through these processes and do their best to guide you in the weeks ahead.

In this piece, Lottie explains what happens when someone dies in a care home. Although the topic is challenging to consider, it is important to be prepared for this eventuality.

Immediately After Death

After a resident dies in a care home, the first step will be to inform the next of kin as soon as possible, in case you are not present when your loved one passes. You may also be requested to provide a formal identification of your relative.

The process that follows this is dependent on whether the death was expected or not.

Expected Deaths

Deaths are sometimes considered expected, generally if a care home resident has been living with a terminal illness.

In the instance of an expected death, a qualified medical practitioner will be contacted by the staff to provide a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death. This will be issued providing the cause of death is apparent or your relative’s GP has seen them within the last 14 days.

If this is the case, a medical certification is granted, allowing for the death to be registered and a funeral director to collect your relative’s body.

Unexpected Deaths

If a death is unexpected, authorities must establish the cause of death, which can complicate the process. Nonetheless, care home staff will help you through.

A doctor will issue certification of death if it is unexpected, however they must also contact the Coroner. The Coroner will determine if a post mortem examination or inquest is required to determine cause, before the documents allowing the death to be registered can be granted.

Unfortunately, a funeral cannot take place until this process has been completed, so preparations may be delayed.

If a post mortem is required the body will be kept in the hospital mortuary until you arrange for the funeral directors to collect it

A woman praying for her dying husband

The Body

Family members should rest assured that your loved one’s body will be properly cared for. All care home staff are trained to treat the body with respect and dignity.

After death, your relative will most likely be moved to their room, or another specially-designated private area. They will normally lay here until the death has been registered and a member of the family has arranged for a funeral director to transport the body.

Customs and Religious Rituals

Under most circumstances, care homes will not prevent you from visiting the body of your loved one.

Many religious customs can therefore be observed within the home, while you await death certification or registration. However, rituals related to the burial could be delayed if there is a need to investigate the cause of death.

You should notify the home if you wish to visit your loved one’s body, so there will be no issues gaining access on arrival. This option is open to all, not only those with religious beliefs, so you can also visit your relative to sit peacefully with them and say goodbyes.

Organ Donation

Organ donation for the purpose of medical treatments is generally only possible when a death has occurred in a hospital, due to the need for immediate action. However, the home may be able to arrange donation of some organs or tissue, so you should alert the staff as soon as possible.

Your relative’s body or tissues could also be donated to medical science, in which case you should contact the Human Tissue Authority.

The Medical Certificate

The medical certificate produced by a doctor following your loved one’s passing will be addressed to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Funeral directors cannot be contacted to collect the body until this certificate is granted and it must be presented to the registrar for the death to be recognised.

The certificate will contain the following information:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Place of death
  • Date of death
  • Cause of death

This certificate is different from a ‘death certificate’, which will be granted by the registrar after the death is registered.

Registering the Death

Once the medical certificate has been granted, the death must be registered within five days in England and Wales, or eight days in Scotland. This is essential to do as you may be fined for failing to do so.

Generally you will need to visit the register office of the district of the care home that your relative lived in, taking the medical certificate of death with you. Here, you can present the letter and have the death recognised by the local government.

It is possible to register the death at an office outside of the relevant district, although this may extend the process. This is because they will need to communicate with the appropriate area’s office, forwarding on the documentation you provide.

Arranging a Funeral

Once the coroner's inquest has been completed and a cause of death established you can begin the funeral arrangements. Your local Funeral Director will arrange for your loved one’s body to be collected and brought to them.

Collecting Your Loved One’s Possessions

Following your loved one’s passing, the care home should contact you to arrange the collection of their possessions. Staff will be aware that some of these objects may be of special significance and hold strong sentimental value, so should treat them with respect.

Generally you will be asked to sign paperwork at the collection of your loved one’s belongings, to acknowledge receipt of the items and that the care home has returned them without damage.

Complaints About the Care Home

Although most care providers will do all they can to ensure your loved one’s final days are happy and peaceful, sadly some experiences can be marred by a poor quality of care.

If you feel that a home has not met the standards set by the Care Quality Commision or are not satisfied with the level of care provided, you should first complain to the provider. They will have their own system for handling complaints that may be able to resolve the issue.

If this process fails to bring closure, further steps can be taken to escalate your complaint. To do so, you should log a complaint with the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

You can lodge a complaint with the ombudsman if you are unsatisfied with the result from the care provider’s own process or if they fail to respond in a reasonable time. The ombudsman advises you should all care homes approximately 12 weeks to respond.

Bereavement Counseling and Support

Losing a loved one can be an incredibly difficult experience, causing emotional turmoil. For some, bereavement counselling may be necessary.

There is no shame in asking for help if you are struggling after someone close to you dies. For those in need of support, you should contact your GP or a support organisation, such as Cruse Bereavement Support, for advice.

Cruse (and other bereavement organisations) can offer advice to help you better understand and process your grief. You can contact them via their helpline or online chat, as well as submitting for more personalised care.

That concludes Lottie’s guide to deaths in care homes. Losing a loved one will always be a challenging and painful experience, but understanding what happens next and leaning on those close to you will help you through.

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