When someone dies in hospital or a care home

If someone dies in hospital or a care home, the staff who have been caring for the person will know what to do. They will provide you with emotional and practical support after the death.

After a death

The person who has died will need to be formally identified by the person named by them as the next of kin. The next of kin may also need to give permission for a hospital post-mortem examination if the cause of the death has to be confirmed. However, a coroner's post-mortem examination may be carried out without consent.

The body will then be laid out and kept in the hospital mortuary until you arrange for the funeral directors, family or whoever you chose to collect it. If you choose, funeral directors will take the body to their chapel of rest until the funeral takes place.

Staff in the hospital or care home will keep safe any  belongings that the person who has died had in hospital until the person administering the estate arranges for them to be collected. They'll issue a receipt when the belongings are collected.

Find out more about coroners, post-mortems and inquests.

The medical certificate

A doctor at the hospital will give you a medical certificate that shows the cause of death. This has to be produced before the death can be registered. They will give you the medical certificate in a sealed envelope addressed to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. You'll also be given information on how to register the death.

If the body is to be cremated, two doctors will sign the medical certificate to show the body has been examined. There may be a charge for this. However, if the death is referred to the coroner, no death certificate will be issued and the death cannot be registered until the coroner has completed enquiries.

Organ and body donation

If you know that the person who has died wanted to donate organs or their body to medical science, it's best to tell hospital or care home staff as soon as possible. Each hospital and care home will have their own policies for dealing with this. 

Hospital staff may approach you if they feel others could be helped through organ donation. Organs will not be taken without your permission.

If the deceased wanted their body to be donated to medical science, contact the Human Tissue Authority (HTA). Not all bodies will be accepted for example, if there has been a post-mortem examination or if organs have been removed. 

Find out more about organ donation.

What you should do next

You must register the person's death at a local register office within five days, except where the death has been referred to the coroner.

You'll need to take the medical certificate with you. After registering the death you'll be given a death certificate, which means you can go ahead with the funeral.

You can use the what to do when someone dies checklist to find out what you'll need to do. It includes lots of useful advice and links to further information.

If you're unhappy with the hospital or care home service

If you're unhappy with any part of the service you get from the care home or hospital, you must first go through the hospital or care home complaints procedure. If you're still unhappy after this, you can contact the Northern Ireland Ombudsman, who can carry out an independent investigation.

Bereavement counselling and support

Everyone deals with bereavement in their own way. If you or someone you know needs counselling or support, ask your family doctor or contact a support organisation, like Cruse Bereavement Care.

Your local council may be able to provide support and advice about the arrangements that need to be made after a bereavement, such as registering the death and obtaining a death certificate.

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