Expert advice

Legal advice: The legality of verifying death in a residential home

I work in a residential home for older people. Can I verify or certify that someone has died during the night instead of calling out a general practitioner?

Question: I work in a residential home for older people. Can I verify or certify that someone has died during the night instead of calling out a general practitioner?

We need to clarify the difference between verifying death and certifying death. Verification is confirming that life is extinct. Nothing more. However, certifying death is when a registered medical practitioner one who has been in attendance during the final illness provides a medical certificate that states the cause of death and which can be registered at the Registrars Office.

It is the medical certificate that effectively ends the persons legal existence and is the legal responsibility of the registered medical practitioner. It cannot be written or issued by anyone not on the GMC register. Therefore, you would not be able to certify the death of one of your residents.

You can verify death in certain

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Question: I work in a residential home for older people. Can I verify or certify that someone has died during the night instead of calling out a general practitioner?

We need to clarify the difference between verifying death and certifying death. Verification is confirming that life is extinct. Nothing more. However, certifying death is when a registered medical practitioner – one who has been in attendance during the final illness – provides a medical certificate that states the cause of death and which can be registered at the Registrar’s Office.

It is the medical certificate that effectively ends the person’s legal existence and is the legal responsibility of the registered medical practitioner. It cannot be written or issued by anyone not on the GMC register. Therefore, you would not be able to certify the death of one of your residents.

You can verify death in certain circumstances. First, you must be a currently registered nurse. You must also have completed training in the verification of death and be competent. You need to follow your employer’s protocol, which will explain when you can undertake the role, and procedure. The protocol should list the contraindications for verification of death by a nurse.

To verify a specific death, the death must have been expected. Your employer’s protocol should explain what this means. For most protocols, this is likely to mean the death followed a specific illness that was identified as resulting in imminent death, and it has been agreed and noted in the patient’s records that no further intervention was to be undertaken.

On verification of death, the nurse may notify the relatives, have the body taken to the mortuary, and enter the date and time of death and any other relevant details in the patient’s record. At the earliest opportunity the GP, or other doctor attending the patent, must be informed of the death.

About the author

Marc Cornock (@Academiclawyer2) is a qualified nurse, academic lawyer and senior lecturer at The Open University

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