Updated guidance for professionals who provide care after death

Apr 22, 2015

The second edition of guidance for the wide range of staff responsible for care after death is launched today.

It aims to help ensure that a person who has died is cared for and that there is well co-ordinated support which respects the wishes of the deceased and their families. 

Care After Death is aimed at the different professionals involved in care and support for people just before and after death, including: nurses, doctors, mortuary staff, ambulance staff, pathologists and funeral directors.

The updated guidance has been endorsed by many of the UK’s leading health and care organisations, namely: the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), NHS Improving Quality, the National Nurse Consultant Group (Palliative Care), the Royal College of Pathologists, Hospice UK and the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC). 

The guidance covers many different aspects of care after death for adults including:

  • Respecting the religious or cultural wishes of the deceased and their family where possible and ensuring legal obligations are met.
  • Ensuring timely verification of death.
  • Preparing the deceased for viewing, where appropriate and supporting the family.
  • Offering the family present the opportunity to participate in the process and supporting them to do so.
  • Ensuring, where relevant, that families are informed about the need for post mortem examination and given information about tissue retention and disposal methods.
  • Preparing the deceased for transfer to the mortuary or the funeral directors premises.
  • Ensuring the privacy, dignity and respect of the deceased is maintained at all times.
  • Facilitating people’s wishes for organ donation.
  • Returning the deceased’s property.

The first edition of Care After Death was published in 2011 and focused mainly on care for adults in acute hospitals, at home or in a care home. The updated guidance covers for the first time post-death care in mental health services and prisons.

It also incorporates detailed elements of care provision in the immediate aftermath of someone’s death. One particular aspect of care that has been identified as needing attention is the verification of expected death, particularly in a community setting – care home or patient’s home. Families can experience distress when verification is not completed in a timely manner and the guidance recommends minimum timelines for this to take place.  

The updated guidance places emphasis on the need for training for staff involved in providing care after death, particularly support for bereaved families. It highlights the need for empathetic, clear communication by professionals, which is adapted to the needs of different families so they are supported as fully as possible to cope with their loss.

Lead report author Jo Wilson, who is a member of the National Nurse Consultant group for Palliative Care, said:

“The importance of the care of a person who has died cannot be overestimated for those providing the care for the deceased, or their families. We at the National Nurse Consultant group (palliative care) are grateful to the many professionals who have contributed their expertise to this valuable guidance”.

Dr Ros Taylor, National Director for Hospice Care at Hospice UK, said:

“This guidance will address some significant gaps, in terms of both practical measures and also emotional support - which is a crucial aspect of hospice and palliative care – to help improve the provision of care after death.

“Better support for bereaved families is vital to help them deal with grief and loss, so we particularly welcome the guidance’s emphasis on training for staff. There is only one opportunity to get things for right individuals and their loved ones after death and it is very important they feel fully supported by all the professionals they encounter.”

Dr Catherine Millington-Sanders, Clinical Lead for End of Life Care for the Royal College of GPs and Marie Curie, added:

“GPs play a central role in end of life care and with the majority of patients wanting to receive care and die in their own home, general practice enables oversight of care and collaboration between health and social care professionals at this time, when our patients are most vulnerable.

 “This guidance offers practical advice and considers legal ramifications with a focus on offering personalised care after death, maintaining the dignity of our patients and showing compassion to their families. It will be welcome by all those across health and social care sectors involved in the direct care of patients and their families, at the end of their lives, and after.

“The College is committed to working with Hospice UK and others to further develop this important report to ensure that general practice is well-equipped to enable this care and support to patients and their families in the community, close to home, where they want and need care most.”

Download a copy of the updated guidance Care After Death.

Media enquiries

Suzanne Stevenson on 0207 520 8296 or by email at s.stevenson@hospiceuk.org For out of hours media enquiries please call 07881 940 318.

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